UNICEF Iran commemorates fifth anniversary of Bam earthquake
Tehran, 26 December 2008 – Exactly five years ago, a devastating earthquake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale shook the cities of Bam and Baravat in Iran’s Kerman province. Some 30,000 people died in the disaster and nearly 2,000 children lost both parents. Almost double that number lost either their mother or father.
In commemorating the tragic events of Bam and Baravat, Christian Salazar, UNICEF’s Representative in Iran, took the opportunity to review UNICEF’s work over the past five years. “The Bam earthquake has been the largest-ever emergency operation for UNICEF in Iran,” he said. “The experience of this tremendous humanitarian challenge will not be forgotten, and have taught us that we need to always strive to be even better prepared.”
The earthquake indeed presented a formidable challenge to Iran’s emergency services. Both of Bam’s hospitals and all 23 health centres were destroyed. Over half of the city’s health workers were killed and almost all of the city’s schools were destroyed, with many teachers and students either missing or dead. The water supply was disrupted and the infrastructure heavily damaged.
“We were able to send first supplies to the victims within the first 24 hours after the disaster – plastic sheeting, health kits, blankets, and so on. But the government’s response was a much larger one,” Mr Salazar said. “Our role became more important two, three weeks after the earthquake. We for instance helped the Ministry of Health restore the cold chain for medical supplies, which was important to prevent the outbreak of diseases among children.”
UNICEF Iran also put a strong emphasis on restoring the water and sanitation system in Bam and Baravat, installing water tanks and distributing chlorine tablets to the population to prevent the outbreak of water borne diseases. UNICEF also helped restore the cities’ water canal system – 70 per cent of all new water pipes laid in the ground from 2004 to 2008 were supplied by UNICEF.
“However, one of the most important things we did in Bam was to organize, from scratch, a family reunification programme with the State Welfare Organisation, to support the government in opening temporary schools as early as one month after the earthquake, and to provide psychosocial care of children, parents and teachers,” Mr Salazar said.
“All the children who were registered after the earthquake as having lost contact to their parents, have found their parents or live with other family members. The psychosocial care was equally crucial – it allowed the children to shift their attention away from the images of the disaster and brought some degree of normality to the lives of families and teachers.”
UNICEF’s main activities in Bam ended in 2006. However, UNICEF is still involved in constructing a community centre, a school and several playgrounds under its “Child-Friendly City” concept, which is planned to be finalized in 2009. More details on UNICEF’s work in Bam can be found at www.unicef.org/iran/media_1650.html and www.unicef.org/iran/resources_1609.html