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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 December, 2003, 21:48 GMT
Cold comfort for Bam's survivors

By Paul Anderson
BBC correspondent in Bam

Woman lights a fire on the debris of her collapsed home in Bam
While aid is getting through, some survivors are still without shelter
A sad sight played out in front of me when I spoke to one of Bam's bereaved families, for whom home is now a patch of pavement.

In the course of her account of misery and bereavement, Esmet Amirzali's more agile relatives leapt to their feet and ran off down the palm-fringed street, the black robes of one young woman flying about her.

They were chasing one of the aid trucks carrying blankets which regularly pass them.

They returned a few moments later, as they have done on many previous occasions, empty-handed.

And so Esmet and her close relatives, who have lost 18 members of their extended family in the earthquake, have to spend another night under the stars with little more than a fire and a few blankets to warm them.

They are parked opposite their demolished home, left out of the aid loop for no reason other than the weight of numbers the Iranian and foreign relief agencies are dealing with.

"This happens all the time," says Esmet. "If they could give us two tents, then we'd be happy - but they've forgotten us."


Mobility is a problem in a town all but levelled by the earthquake.

The men in Esmet's family walked to the nearest aid point to seek help; they were told to go back and wait by the side of the road. They did, but nothing showed.

Like many people in the first two days after the earthquake, they had concentrated on retrieving bodies and burying their dead according to Muslim tradition.

Armenian doctors and relief workers on their journey to Bam by road
Aid agencies say disaster victims need at least:
Shelter: 3.5 square metres
Water: 7 litres/day
Food: 2,100 kilocalories/day

That is done, and they are now thinking of themselves and starting to panic.

"People are dying like this," she says. "We will die, because it's getting colder."

Despite this tale of neglect, international relief agencies have praised Iran - in particular, the Iranian Red Crescent Society - for handling and co-ordinating the aid effort well.

Civil and security forces have been mobilised to help 100,000 survivors.

Their rehearsals were the war with Iraq in the 1980s and the huge earthquake in the north in 1990.


Plenty of aid has come in - at a peak, 12 flights an hour land in Bam's small airport.

There is so much, it is starting to bank up.

The Iranians are now appealing for aid relating directly to the second-phase disaster relief - mobile hospitals, disinfectants, hydraulic pumps and field toilets among them.

We're hungry and cold. The management of this disaster just isn't working
Tuba Zaamanay

One task the authorities have now identified is to prevent disease, which is so far held at bay; another is to devise medium-term housing while the town of just under 100,000 people is rebuilt.

Yet another task is to reunite children, evacuated for medical help immediately after the earthquake, with parents or relatives who have no idea where they are.

People line up outside the few working telephone booths calling hospitals all over the country to try to track them down.

On the ground there are plenty of signs, besides Esmet Amirzali and the remains of her family, of people overlooked in the first phase of the relief operation.

Cold comfort

By night, fires which flare in the streets, on roundabouts and corners testify to the numbers in question.

Some of the people do have tents, but many do not - among them Tuba Zaamanay.

A week ago she was a mother of five children. Today she is a mother of four, several of whom she cradles in her arms by the fire.

Mass burial in Bam
21 June 1990: 40,000 killed in Gilan, Iran
7 December 1988: 25,000 killed in north-west Armenia
28 July 1976: 500,000 killed in Tangshan, China

"We're hungry and cold," she says. "We've only had a bit of bread. The management of this disaster just isn't working."

Teams of clerics from the world-renowned Islamic University of Qom have swept into Bam in waves, performing burial rites and offering succour and the cold comfort that the earthquake is God's test of the faith of the people.

They are a formidable rapid-reaction force for wounded souls.

The mullahs say that, as devout Muslims, the people readily accept their prescribed interpretation of such calamitous events.

But even the clerics accept the people of Bam need much more. The population is emerging from deep trauma, waiting for help which for most can never be enough.

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