TEHRAN, 30 Mar 2004 (IRIN) - Iran's statistics office has announced that the death toll following the devastating December earthquake in thhe southeastern city of Bam is now 26,271 - nearly half the figure originally feared.
Previously, the local governor's office had put the number of deaths at more than 43,000 but the statistics office claims that some victims were counted more than once in the chaos following the disaster.
Iran's statistics office said they arrived at this figure after conducting a census, in which it found that 525 people are still missing.
"We sent out representatives to the different areas in the city of Bam and in the surrounding villages. Using information they had from the last census, they talked to knowledgeable local people to determine who had died and who had survived," a statistics officer told IRIN in Tehran.
The statistics office also questioned the reliability of other estimates.
"Other figures that have come out, say, from the governor's office - the source of their information has not been clear. Some have based their information on the number of people buried in the cemetery - but we find that number to be much lower," the statistics officer said.
Reaction to the news in Bam has been one of puzzlement. "I cannot understand how we can suddenly have 20,000 less deaths," Sudi Ahmadzadeh, the national coordinator for UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Bam, told IRIN.
"I am assuming that this number has come from the number of death certificates that have been issued - if so, the number will eventually be higher as the issuing of death certificates is not complete yet," she added.
Non-governmental organisation (NGO) workers in Bam say that locals are shocked by the new figure. "There's just general disbelief. A lot of Bamis don't believe it - they thought the death toll was even higher. It does sound extraordinary, as this new figure is nowhere near the other one," one NGO volunteer told IRIN.
Over 70 percent of the city was destroyed, 2,000 children were orphaned and thousands left homeless by the earthquake, which measured 6.7 on the Richter scale.
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