Prepared Disaster

As the death count rises by the thousands every day, as the streaming photos of the dead and the injured pain us day and night, and as the world community displays a genuine solidarity with the suffering people of Iran to deal with the immediate and long-term impacts of this natural disaster of mega proportions, we need to know why the casualties are relatively so high, why the government’s initial reaction was so slow and disorganized, and, above all, why such utter impotence in natural disaster preparation in Iran?

These are tough questions that every one inside Iran and outside Iran is beginning to ask, without receiving any satisfactory answer. A recent report in Shargh newspaper is that very few of the buildings built with modern material have been damaged while the majority built by mud and bricks, without consideration of the earthquake building codes, have collapsed.

A trauma born by Iran’s third world status perhaps, considering how a similar magnitude quake in California the week before caused only a couple of deaths, and that an even stronger quake in Japan a few years ago had only 3 casualties. Surely, this quake, more than any other event in recent memory, has violently displayed to the world the economic backwardness and utter poverty of Iran, the oil-rich Iran that often brags as a regional superpower.

There was, however, nothing super-powerish about the ability of Bam’s residents to withstand the quake’s impact, or the government’s own prowess to deal with its horrific implications. The simple but hugely sad fact is a mid-level tremblor has left a mega tragedy of nightmarish proportions, and certainly someone(s) in Iran need to answer tough questions, from the Iranian people, and the world community.

Iran’s ruling clerics, if they cannot address the people’s basic needs to protect them against natural disasters, must step aside and vacate in favor of those who are more far-sighted, who know the value of crisis-prevention, who are not cognitively incapable of putting together a crisis team that based on scientific forecast put into action a comprehensive¬†plan of action.

The political ramifications of this earthquake will not be small nor short-term, rather it will be politically expensive to those who have taken chance with the lives of innocent Iranian people, leaving them to the mercy of mother nature, when they should have been concentrating on crisis prevention, notwithstanding the threat of future cycles of quakes in other parts of Iran, Tehran in particular.

Indeed, how many thousands of Iranians must die before the government wakes up and agrees that a center for “unexpected events” (setad-e havadese ghayr-e moteraghbe) does not suffice, for the sad fact of life is that earthquake is an integral part of our geography and Iran is one of the ten most earthquake prone countries in the world.

So, the question is: what is so “unexpected” (ghayre moteraghebe) about earthquakes in Iran, and why is there no center for earthquake management in Iran today which membership should include the highest members of the government?

I read in a Tehran paper the other day that the injured released from the hospitals have no where to go, that no government agency has come forward to taking care of them. WHY? How does one expect to believe the words of government leaders when they promise full-scale support for the victims when hundreds if not thousands of such victims are wandering outside hospitals in winter’s cold?

This is not to overlook much that has been done, particularly by the armed forces of Iran, the various volunteer organizations, and the coordinated activities of the various branches of the government. It has been no small measure to airlift over ten thousand wounded from Bam in less than two days, or to rescue thousands from under the rubbles.

The rules of fairness dictates against any oversimplification of the problems or oversight of the timely and critical contributions. President Khatami must be lauded for early on admitting publicly of the government’s inability to tackle the problem by itself, and to thank all the outside supporters including the U.S. Government, and certainly one can only hope that from good will of the U.S. can come an olive branch by both sides toward each other. Indeed, why not using this tragic common cause to better diplomatic relations?!

In conclusion, what is needed right now is a commission of inquiry inclusive of journalists, politicians, etc., to investigate the level of government’s response, any tardiness, to recommend such measures as the firing of certain government officials, and to put forth a study on what lessons to draw from this and the previous earthquakes in order to prevent the recurrence of another major catastrophe. In fact, the whole legitimacy of the political system now rests on the earnest answer demanded to those tough questions posed by an entire nation.

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