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IRAN: Focus on Bam survivors still living amidst rubble

BAM, 19 Jan 2004 (IRIN) - More than three weeks after last month's devastating earthquake struck the southeastern Iranian city of Bam - killing more than 40,000 people - many affected people remain reluctant to move to camps, concerned at losing their property. Others who want to move into the tented cities complain of lack of access. Most of the homeless still live in tents not far from their fully or partially collapsed houses, mainly on the streets of the ancient city.


Ali, a 36-year-old local resident told IRIN that he didn't want to leave his house, fearing it would be looted. "If I go to a camp, our belongings can be looted. I have my deed papers under the rubble. When all the rubble is removed or if someone occupies my land how can I prove that it is mine?" he asked.

Such fears aren't hard to understand given the story of Mahmoud, a 47-year-old tradesman, whose warehouse was looted in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. "I have lost everything. Apart from the goods that were smashed by the collapsed warehouse, five trucks of my goods were stolen while I was trying to get the bodies of my brother and his whole family from under the rubble," he told IRIN.

And while Reza Esmaeli, an official of the Kerman provincial governorship, conceded such incidents had indeed taken place, he maintained they were declining. "Everything is under the control of the police," he told IRIN.

According to the official, in Bam, each house had a garden so nowadays people preferred to stay within their own property rather than leave it, given the number of people from outlying villages and other cities inside the city.

The people were scared to lose their property and wanted to stay near their houses keeping their gardens safe and secure and also to start growing food, Esmaeili explained, noting that if they went to the camps they would be away from their gardens and might not have the opportunity to look after them, an essential part of many residents' income.

Additionally, some people who were better off considered it humiliating to go and live in the camps, he said, adding it had proven a psychological barrier of sorts for some people.


Meanwhile, other victims still living on the streets not far from their houses complained they would like to move to the camps, but had yet to be told how, illustrating a certain lack of awareness among the local population.

51-year-old Hossain lives with his family in a tent on one of the streets of Bam not far from the city centre near his house that had been completely destroyed in the quake. "We are living 20 people in four tents. We've got nothing," he told IRIN. Asked why they didn't go to a camp he replied: "Nobody told us to go to a camp or showed us where to go either."

He added that if they had been told to go to one of the camps with facilities, including latrines, showers, warm tents and hot meals they would go immediately. "We have a small baby and we pray to God that it will survive under such circumstances," he said.

Like Hossain, most of his neighbours were also living either on the pavement or in the yard of a partly collapsed school nearby. Nobody had urged them to move to camps either, they maintained.

But some people living in their makeshift tents not far from a big camp established by the government's Bureau of Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs Office (BAFIA), the coordinating body for refugee affairs, told IRIN that when they went there, they were told that the camp was full and there was no room for them. "We wanted to live there as it isn't far from our place. But they tell us to go to other camps, which are pretty far from here," 60-year-old Ali Yousouf Abadi said, a father of 10 children, three of whom died in the 26 December disaster.

Ali Yousouf's wife claimed that at least 50 tents in that camp were occupied by people from the villages outside the city who had rushed in upon hearing that there were some shelters to live in and food to eat. "I went hundreds of times to them [camp officials] but they didn't give us any tents," she said.


An official responsible for planning with the Kerman governorship, told IRIN some 200,000 people were now being sheltered under tents, of which some 5,000 were living in camps. He added that a lot of people from surrounding villages and towns of the district, of which Bam is the centre, and even some people from neighbouring districts, had flooded the city, which had been the region's the main distribution centre for food and other supplies.

Concurring, Esmaeili of Kerman governorship said there had been a major influx of people from villages and other cities living in Bam now. "We realise that the people from cities and villages have been here and they have occupied some of the places and live here," he said.

"There is a very interesting problem now. The population of Bam after the earthquake is more than the population before the quake - although over 41,000 had been killed."

According to official statistics, the population of Bam city before the earthquake was a little less than 100,000. The Iranian Red Crescent Society estimates that figure to now be around 200,000, attributing it to the fact that many people from the surrounding areas had come to Bam in an effort to get access to food and non-food items distributed there.

But the Ministry of Health has reported that they had registered some 70,000 people going tent to tent in the city with the registration process still under way.


Ali Muazzam Zadeh, 75, lives in a camp established by the government with his family. "We feel safer safe here that's why he came here," he told IRIN, adding that there were a lot of tents in the camp and they could stay close to each other and their extended family, meaning the families of his two sons. However, his family was less than satisfied with the facilities in their part of the camp. His wife told IRIN there was a lack of blankets, no electricity, no latrines and nothing to keep them warm at night.

Her husband said there was electricity in the camp centre but not in their tents. "We have the sky as our blanket and the earth as the floor," the old man said with resignation.

However, some officials at the camp, where some 750 people are living, told IRIN that people living there were provided with basic items, including food, hot meals, blankets, latrines and showers, some of which were provided by various donor countries and international NGOs.


Regarding the issue of people still living on the streets, the authorities plan to establish four more camps, according to a health ministry official.

"In the very near future the government is going to take the rubble out because of the probable diseases that might affect people," Esmaeili said, adding when this happened, the population would be expected to live temporarily in the camps.

However, according to another government official, those who didn't want to move to camps and work on their gardens might be provided with pre-fabricated houses.

Meanwhile, for the people who had moved to Bam from surrounding villages and towns, some local officials told IRIN that the government was considering taking stronger action and removing them from the city. This was because it was affecting the flow of rescue, relief and reconstruction aid.

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004

... Payvand News - 1/20/04 ... --

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