Jan 5, 2004
As many as 40,000 people have died, tens of thousands more are wounded, and most of the city of Bam has been destroyed by an earthquake which hit southeastern Iran on December 26. Almost everyone else in Bam was left homeless, facing the danger of epidemics because the city’s hospitals, buildings, water and utility systems were destroyed.
Bam is an ancient city that uses traditional mud brick walls for its construction, similar to adobe. After the earthquake, an ancient fortress in the center of the city looked like a sand castle destroyed by the ocean.
Such construction is guaranteed to collapse in earthquakes. And Iran lies along a severe fault zone, with areas prone to earthquakes. An estimated 15,000 Iranians were killed in a 1978 earthquake and another 35,000 in a similar catastrophe in 1990. This is exactly the kind of area that needs to take special care in its construction materials and techniques.
But clearly the Iranian government has not established nor enforced regulations appropriate for earthquake zones.
It’s not due to a lack of money. Iran has carried out large-scale oil and gas production for over a century, producing enormous wealth. But this benefitted first and foremost the English and American oil companies. These oil profits also enriched a layer of Iranians around the ruling class, whether under the Shahs or under the mullahs after the 1979 revolution. The rest of the country has remained underdeveloped and poor, as in Bam.
As soon as the catastrophe happened, volunteers from other areas of Iran poured into Bam to try to give aid, but they were blocked by the lack of resources.
It’s in this situation, the U.S. government stepped forward, promising “humanitarian aid” – despite previous frigid relations with Iran.
But talk, of course, is cheap. Up until now, little has been done – government officials point to the “practical” problems involved in bringing in supplies to the region.
This is not a practical problem. The U.S. was able to airlift thousands of tons of material into Kuwait in a few weeks, preparing for the invasion of Iraq – earth-moving equipment and construction material, not to mention the thousands of tons of food, water, housing and medical supplies for several hundred thousand U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Kuwait.
The same haste could be made to aid homeless and desperate people around Bam. It’s all a question of what priorities a government sets for itself.