I am writing on behalf of the Bam Earthquake Emergency Coordinating Committee (BamEECC) to raise our unequivocal and continuing concerns regarding the relief efforts underway in Bam.
From the get go, the BamEECC has called on the generous public, both in Iran and abroad, to give all in-kind and financial donations to reputable organisations. We have stressed the fact that no donations should be given to the Islamic Republic of Iran or its government-run 'NGOs'.
We have reiterated this call via media broadcasts in Iran, Europe and North America, including during a live interview with the BamEECC's Coordinator on BBC News 24 on January 2, 2004. Our reasoning behind this call is clear. Reputable international and non-sectarian humanitarian organisations are better able and willing to assist the people of Bam.
On the other hand, the Islamic Republic of Iran is not trusted by the population at large to spearhead relief and reconstruction efforts because it is rightly seen to be responsible for the massive human tragedy especially given its utter neglect in creating adequate housing during its past 25 year rule, its imposition of desperate poverty, its disregard for people's lives and safety, poor building methods, lack of proper regulations, as well as its refusal to heed recommendations made by a series of inquiries following the 1990 earthquake in north-west Iran.
Clearly, the deaths of what is amounting to over 50,000 people in an oil rich country are not the result of natural causes. In addition to its culpability for the quake, the government's inadequate, late and chaotic response has exacerbated the situation; many could still be alive today had the authorities acted in a timely and responsible manner like governments are supposed to in such situations.
Bam is one more blemish on this government's inability and unwillingness to intervene on the people's behalf. For example, the authorities only divulged information on the earthquake nine hours and only met to address it ten hours after it had occurred. This was in spite of the fact that the public in Iran had already begun spontaneously organising to provide all the assistance they could muster.
Messrs. Khatami and Khamenei only visited the site four days after the quake and even then only to excuse their inadequacies. Moreover, the premature calling off of Search and Rescue operations, the mishandling of international rescue teams, including delaying their access, delays in provision of translation services and the mistreatment of these personnel in some instances, delays in the offloading of aid from delivery trucks for hours and even days, the obstruction of aid being delivered by the public who wanted to bypass the government, the selling of aid in the black market and so on have all exacerbated the situation and wasted valuable time and lives. If the regime's callousness was unbeknownst to relief workers prior to the earthquake, it has become crystal clear from their first hand experiences.
More tragically, the BamEECC has received numerous reports of people, particularly children, dying as a result of the cold because vital aid has not reached them in time; many are still awaiting tents, food and the like ten days after the quake.
To make matters worse, aid is not being given to women-headed households in many instances; the authorities have expelled numerous doctors and international aid workers from the area and are even checking the identification of all those entering Bam in order to further obstruct the transfer of aid and information on the government's negligence.
The BamEECC reiterates that relief efforts must be spearheaded and monitored by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in liaison and coordination with reputable international organisations and institutions such as UNICEF, WHO, Medicins sans Frontieres as well as local NGOs and the concerned public.
In addition to ensuring that aid reaches survivors, its other crucial tasks are to provide the public with up-to-date information on the progress of relief and reconstruction efforts as well as financial accountability of all monies donated to this effort from governments, organisations and the public.
Moreover, the BamEECC requests an investigation into the following reports received from various sources in Bam and Iranian newspaper reports and the action undertaken to stop these forms of abuse:
* The government Baseej and Pasdaran refusal to pull out or assist women who were unveiled.
* Reports that survivors are in some instances being charged for the medical care they are receiving and families are being charged for burials.
* Women and children are being kidnapped and trafficked.
* Villagers from surrounding villages not hit by the quake but that are at risk because they received their supplies from Bam are not receiving aid. The BamEECC is closely monitoring the situation and will provide you with up-to-date information on the situation. We await your immediate response.
Maryam Namazie is Coordinator of the Bam Earthquake Emergency Coordinating Committee established by well-known Iranian human rights personalities to ensure that the people of Bam are not forgotten. Committee Members are Maryam Namazie (Coordinator), Mina Ahadi, Asad Golchini, Bahram Modaresi, Esmail Moloodi, Mehrnoush Moosavi, Kazem Nikkhah, Fariborz Pooya, Nahid Riyazi, and Halaleh Taheri. BM Box 8927, London WC1N 3XX, England, Tel: +44 (0) 07719166731, Fax: +44 (0) 870 1351338.