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Last Updated: Monday, 29 December, 2003, 19:52 GMT
Tough questions over Iran quake

By Miranda Eeles
BBC News, Tehran

Iran soldiers uncovering body
The scale of the disaster has prompted stinging criticism
It is too early to predict the political fallout from the tragedy of Bam.

Iranians at the moment are more concerned with getting aid to the tens of thousands left homeless.

But in disasters such as these, questions are bound to be asked.

In the domestic press, some with axes to grind have been using the opportunity for political ends.

"Four days have passed since the earthquake", laments the rightwing paper Jomhuri Eslami. "Where is Shirin Ebadi, with her big Nobel prize money to help?"

The rise in the number of casualties and the fact that the injured have been neglected seriously calls into question the competence of the government

Others have simply asked why Iran has not learnt from past tragedies.

"What have we gained from the dozens of seminars, papers and conferences?" asked the moderate daily Toseh.

"After the earthquakes of Manjil, Roudbar and Qazvin, why do we yet again have the disaster at Bam?

Sub-standard housing

There has also been widespread criticism over the coordination of the relief operation, after reports from the ground of chaotic scenes and disorganised distribution.

Questions have also been asked about sub-standard housing, with one member of parliament calling for the Minister of Housing to be prosecuted for his inability to ensure Iran's buildings are safe.

The independent website Gooya.com is stinging in its criticism.

"The big human disaster in Bam" has exposed some shocking facts about the crisis management of our executive government."

"The rise in the number of casualties and the fact that the injured have been neglected seriously calls into question the competence of the government."

Even former President Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani acknowledged on state television there were problems with management, but added now was not the time to criticise.

The visit to Bam by the country's two top politicians shows how importantly Iran's leaders view the situation unfolding in the stricken region.

Both President Khatami and Supreme Leader Khamenei wanted to make their presence felt and to show a shocked public how much they care.

The two faces of modern Iran, with two very different styles.

While President Khatami appealed for more help, Mr Khamenei focussed on the efforts of the nation.

Joining forces

Iranians themselves have been coming together to help in the relief effort.

From bell ringing ceremonies in schools, to celebrity wrestlers at special fundraising events, people all over the country are showing a rare sense of unity and joining forces to assist the survivors of Bam.

"I want to say to the people of Kerman and Bam that I share their sadness," said one man at a donation centre in Tehran. "I have been disabled for 23 years and I feel their pain."

Many Iranians, wary or distrustful of giving to an official fund, have opted for private donations, some giving a day's salary, others loading up vans with provisions to take to the region themselves.

Iran battles to cope with disaster
29 Dec 03  |  Middle East

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