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Report from Bam, Iran: Unkindness of God and lack of care and attention by his sons

By Syma Sayyah, Tehran


The vastness of the land, the stunning wide blue sky with a haze of the moon still left there among the scattered clouds, the beautiful mountains with a touch of snow on their peak in the distance surrounding this city is what came to view as we passed through the crazy driving and chaotic road traffic of what is left over from what was once the historical city of Bam! That is after we passed Golbaft and Rayeh and its strange looking hill which is roaring still and worries everybody who lives nearby and forces many to sleep outside, despite the cold of the nights. From the "seven gardens of sky" road we arrived in Bam. This was two weeks ago, after nearly six weeks of that devastating quake that shocked this city and left but a huge chunks of rubble all around in every corner that one may turn.



Five kilometers before Bam, we started to see the damage, the wreckages and the terrible devastation. Some of the roads even seemed to have cracks in them.  We saw the dry pine trees all around but what we found most tricking was the sad sign of RESIGNATION on people's faces. The place looked as someone said, very much like Khorramshahr and Abadan during the war, and after they had been bombed many times.


Hardly anything stands that has not been damaged somehow. We hardly saw any buildings that did not have a crack big or small. We expected order to have been restored in Bam by this time which it was. What was missing was real signs of serious rehabilitation of normal life which would include real homes, schools, hospitals, work and other activities and amenities that constitute normal daily life of a city. 


The hospitals were one of the most orderly operations we noted. This may be due to the fact that most of the injured were transferred to other cities including Kerman and Tehran. Besides, many of the foreign aid workers were involved in that, including MSF (Me'decins Sans Frontieres - Doctors without Borders), Red Cross and Iran Red Crescent. Although we were told by some that many of the patients did not have anyone left to come to visit them.



One of the first signs that took my attention was the office for the missing persons. Almost all the official buildings were badly damaged, as well as schools and hospitals, everything and everywhere. Everybody complained that authorities did not act quickly enough when it happened.  However, bear in mind, that many of the officials and their families did not survive the quake and were either dead or injured. Many told us of a rumor-let's say- that the city's governor, on the night of the quake, had been given warning about the possible dangers, but chose to forego a general warning to the public, yet with his family stayed in their car in the big square near their home and so they all survived.  I hate to think how badly he must feel, if this rumor is true in anyway. Eve of 25th of December was a very cold night, and many who had on their own initiative stayed outdoors, due to the cold went back to their homes with atrocious consequences.


I hardly saw any foreign tents being used by ordinary people. Yes, we saw them, but in official compounds, where offices, hospitals and other communal units were set up, including banks, government offices etc. We saw many pre-fabricated units or Connex, near our hotel, Azadi Hotel, which was itself damaged too, but we went ahead and stayed there anyways, and left our fate in the hands of Allah! There was a slight earthquake on the first night we were there as we were having dinner, but then again we just laughed if off and carried on, as the other guests did, some of whom were aid workers from abroad.



There were not any petrol shortages and for the first few days it was free of charge, although on the first day everything was a little hazy and crazy. We did not see anyone been given free mobile as some banners stated.


The degree of devastation is different across the city. In the Arab quarters and the affluent area near the bazaar, it is very bad, may be more than 70-80%. In other parts it is less, but the building are damaged such that they must all be knocked down and built from scratch again. I was told that centre of quake was Bouali street and it was totally knocked down.  Here I have picture for you form the City Fire Department or what is left of it.



We traveled all around Bam and in Baravat in the outskirt of Bam. We visited a few camps and one hospital; and we tried to see the governor to tell him our findings at the daily meeting which we were told he holds at his HQ at 6pm. Once there, we were told that the meeting with different organizational heads finished an hour before. We tried to go and see the foreign aid workers HQ but in vain. The only official who was rude and uncooperative was the silly man who was at the "Coordinating Desk" there.  I repeated myself four times why I was there and what I wanted, but then he would go back to his original question like a well-trained 'inspector' as if I was avoiding telling him the TRUTH! Everywhere else, everybody including the soldiers on duty and officials were very cordial and cooperative. We were so surprised that this one at Cento was so unlike others. He was from Tehran, and for sure he seemed to be there just to make sure that things didn't get down unless he/his superiors wanted them. I wished I had time to go to the hotel where most of them stayed to have a chat there, but we had to come back.


We came across an aid group from Mashhad headed by Haji Agha Kabiri, a man in his early 40s, most polite, sincere and dedicated to his work with strong will. When we met, he was having a meeting with a few local official educators. Their NGO Kheyrieh Mohebaan Velayat from Tabadekann, Mashhad is involved in opening and running schools. I told him that I work for and what can we do to help? He said "we don't need money, what we need is expertise, knowledge know-how", "we want to learn how they can mange in a few days, after such a terrible disaster, to put things in order so quickly and efficiently"


He asked for people's time and experience in related fields from our readers.


His office may be reached at 0098-511-741-5363 or 0098-151-150014 and 0098-151-826857.   I have asked them to set up a web site or address so that people could contact them easier from outside Iran. I was truly touched with their organization, and the dedication of their staff. They were stationed in a big mosque which was still inhabitable, although partly damaged. I saw children around the yard playing.



We visited the camp of Mehr va Vista that Mr. Kasraian's 1383 calendars proceeding will go towards their efforts of setting up nursery schools and schools.  We met a few young doctors and nurses from Medical Unit of Universities of State of Shiraz who had come on a tour of duty and were going back soon. They were all very friendly and pleasant like true Shirazis.



Bulldozers and trucks were visible in all parts, even in Arg-e Bam where many from different provinces' municipalities had come to help along.


We saw the streets being cleaned, and there was an orderly rubbish collection by the municipality authority. They seem to work well. There was tap water with a message on each tap to indicate it clearly. We were told that the city has been well disinfected (sampashee) and one could smell it or god know what else. Electricity was available everywhere, although on the first night after the small quake we had a short power outage. Free bread was baked in portable units, on regular basis and some could be collected and some would be delivered. We also saw portable Dental units too.


People lived, mainly in temporary tents set up by Iran Red Crescent Society, right in front of their doorsteps. In the evenings when the lights were lit, the tents looked very theatrical to look at. This changed drastically with the morning light, when reality overtook. These tents did not look new and did not have any windows. Their floors, the few we saw, were not covered with all the floor covers that we were told had been sent there. It will be truly a serious and difficult task to get these people to move from there, cut from their past and the place that they feel is reminiscent of past memories, familiar things and people. Who can blame them?



There are serious shortages of toilets and pubic baths, and proper food with substantial nourishment for the elderly.  Traditional women were troubled to take baths in what they considered public open place, and therefore they would not feel 'comfortable' to use them. Consequently, many people have not had a bath for over a month, which could indicate that there is trouble around the corner.


By far, the worst problem stems from the migration of huge number of people from places nearby to Bam.  Official and ordinary people were uniform in pointing out this as the most severe problem that has to be addressed.  The authorities are trying to set up new IDs, but due to the devastation many people have truly lost all their livelihoods including their documents. But I do hope that this is sorted out and the shortages and problems of the true people of Bam are addressed speedily and effectively.  However, one can not wonder how is it that so many people choose to 'take advantage of such a sad situation!' Are their lives so bad where they come from that this is good in comparison? Then are they not another kind of victim or are they just scoundrels there for a bug?  I hate to be the judge of that. All I know is that many told us that a great deal of goods that are sent from four corners of Iran and the world are being sold in Kerman, Zahedan and other nearby cities, and people of Bam are not getting any of these help.


I will not even go into how damaged the Arg is. You can see it in the pictures. It is now nothing but a great pile of rubble.



It is a luxury to be depressed; those who were left alive, need to survive in many different fronts and therefore it will take a long time to get to be depressed. Sheer desperation forces them to cope with the huge calamity that has befallen them.


A lady was telling me that she went to visit a cousin at the hospital, she said I wanted to tell her for the sake of your children or mother or husband you must find the will to get up and get well, yet I was lost for words as this cousin had lost them all. At such times one doe not know what to think. Would this woman be better off if she had died too? It may sound terrible but then why so much suffering?


Another lady told me that god gives you as much as you can bear and endure. Is this so, I wonder?


There was a gentleman, Mr. Sabri, the neighbor of one of our business associates that we had gone to visit. His house as it is shown in the pictures is the only one standing in the middle of several streets around it. Nobody knows how come that his house and consequently he and his family were saved!



When I asked him if he would go back to repair the house to live in it, he looked at me with pained, and said, "nearly all my neighbors are dead or badly injured. How can I come back to live here!? There is no neighborhood left anymore, how can I come back?"


One of the best things that were done was by an NGO who had gathered two truck loads of toys from Tehran and delivered them by their own people to kids in Bam. What people need most is getting back to normal life; they need jobs. So instead of authorities sending helpers, they should hire the local people who can work, not only to not keep them busy but also to give them means of earning a living. There should be a serious job creation program of all sorts for all kinds and levels of abilities.


The top priority should be getting people into new well built and safe homes.  I am afraid it doesn't seem to us this will come true for a long while.  We did not see any serious projects on the way. Also people must have jobs and some light entertainments. There must be radio given to each person, and there must be a local station where people can phone in to ask questions. Many did not know where to go for their needs. We learned that there is a local paper but first of all not everyone reads and also this paper mainly deals with praising of the 'job well done!'


Another serious problem is the weather. When it gets warm, there is the problem of heat and all its consequences, flies, snakes and scorpions.


The food is another problem. Everybody complained about how sick they are to even think about tuna fish and beans. They must be given fruits and vegetable in their diet as well as diary products. Somehow all the goods that arrive there doesn't get to those that it's intended for, unless it's done by those who send it like the toys from Tehran.


I shall not bother you with bad management, lack of management and mismanagement, and interfering managerial decision by different agencies or even NGOs. Another problem is lack of coordination between different groups, so often more than one group is doing the same thing. Interference between groups must be sorted out in order to optimize their effectiveness towards benefiting people who need them. This itself a gigantic task.  May God help the people of Bam.

... Payvand News - 2/13/04 ... --

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