Irish Republican News · January 12, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]

By Anthony McIntyre (from the Blanket)

At the beginning of this month Iranian government officials in Iran warned that fatalities resulting from the Bam earthquake could reach 50,000. The quake measured in at 6.6 on the Richter scale. If these estimates are accurate then Bam has been the site of the highest earthquake spawned death toll since the Chinese city of Tang-shan lost an estimated 242,419 of its population in 1976. It amounts to approximately 25% of the combined population of the Iranian city and its surrounding towns and villages. While the country's president has sought to pitch the anticipated death rate considerably lower, aid workers were not optimistic.

One report conveyed a sense of the devastation: `every village within a couple of miles north, west and east of Bam had been levelled. Even eight miles outside the city, houses were destroyed.' Five miles east of Bam, in Sfikan, one man who had lost his family said, `every house here has been destroyed, every family has lost three, four, five people.' Mr Hechmat Hashemi, of the Iranian Red Crescent, made an appeal: `the situation is very serious and we need foreign help.' One of the most graphic images to emerge was that of a Bam father carrying his two dead children, one in each arm, to a cemetery on the outskirts of the city. Things don't get much worse than that.

With the city's two main hospitals destroyed surgery is being performed on the open street. Many of the injured are being flown to hospitals as distant as 600 miles. International rescue teams have met with limited success, pulling 30,000 dead from the ruins. Stories of children being pushed through the rubble by dying parents who held on for that very moment and then expired have been few and far between. And the main energy is now being directed to relief. In the midst of this humanitarian drive, political considerations and acrimonies are never far away. While expressing appreciation for the aid that has arrived in the country, its leaders remain suspicious of American involvement in relief activity, alleging that it is politically rather than humanitarian driven. American teams have nevertheless continued to work on the ground. At the same time, Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, which documents repression and censorship since the 1979 theocratic revolution that overthrew the murderous Shah, claimed that much of the blame for the present havoc lies squarely with the Iranian government. She points out that a member of parliament from Sanandaj province complained publicly that officials had ignored a bill that focused on measures to limit damage and loss of life from earthquakes. The measure was proposed after a Bam-type earthquake in his region in 1990 left 40,000 people dead. Nafisi further claims that there is evidence that female doctors offering medical assistance have been turned away as a result of the country's strict religious code.

Whatever the truth, little expense was put into the construction of Bam's housing and office buildings. According to the Observer, corruption was `rampant' and local building regulations `barely enforced.' A profit-driven disregard by the Iranian equivalent of the Belfast building firm, Rooney, for public safety prompted one experienced observer to comment that `earthquakes don't kill people, but buildings and builders of inferior buildings do.' This echoed a sentiment expressed by a Turkish journalist in 1999 after an earthquake wreaked devastation in his country: `corruption kills people, not earthquakes.' As a result of that disaster some took to descibing it as a class quake, `because of the accuracy with which it struck down the poor.'

There is a serious need for aid efforts to continue unabated. UN officials say about 40,000 survivors are now living in rescue tents and are experiencing bitterly cold nights. The Irish Red Cross estimates up to 400,000 people will need immediate assistance and that 200,000 people will need help for at least the next six months. Mr Frederick Lyons, the UN resident co-ordinator, said the UN would appeal for funds to address the primary needs of shelter, food and water. Amongst badly needed equipment are tarpaulins, cooking equipment, medicine and water purification facilities.

The relief effort is made no easier by those with an eye for opportunity intent on maximising their position regardless of the human cost they inflict. Armed men are reported to have entered Bam in vans and made off with Red Crescent tents. Local people have complained that `whoever is stronger takes the aid.'

Walking with a friend last Sunday, we discussed what we could do to assist. The question of aid busied our minds. We both know that the easy way out is to take the `principled' stand of blaming global capital, dip into our pockets, hand the money over the bar counter, and wait on Trotsky to come over the Black Mountain chanting `socialism.' Yet, the fact that the world is governed in such a way as not to lend itself to the widespread alleviation of poverty and human misery is hardly an excuse for those of us who can do something to forego it for the dubious consolation of ideologically sitting on our hands.

For those who wish to assist financially the plight of the Iranians of Bam, some of the aid agencies have provided details of how this might be done.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi is collecting and distributing funds: Account No. 8080, Saderat Bank of Iran, Yousef-abad Ave, Kalantary Square Branch,Tehran, Iran. To make a donation to Concern's Bam Iran emergency appeal log on to or call 1850 410510.

Contributions to the Irish Red Cross can be made on 1850 507070, or online at, or by post to the Irish Red Cross Iran, Appeal, 16 Merrion Square, Dublin 2. Trocaire donations can be made online at On the recommendation of Pedram Moallemian, a Blanket contributor, contact Mercy Corps at

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© 2004 Irish Republican News