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Iran, Islamic Republic of

Children among the most vulnerable from quake and aftershocks in Lorestan, Iran

© UNICEF Iran/2006/Ghobadzadeh
Children of families that lost their homes in the earthquake are living in makeshift dwellings in Lorestan, Iran.

By Zahra Sethna

LORESTAN, Iran, 5 April 2006 – UNICEF is at the front lines of the emergency relief effort in the aftermath of the 31 March earthquake and aftershocks in Lorestan, Iran. UNICEF’s Representative in Iran, Christian Salazar, spent time over the last few days in the city of Boroujerd, one of the hardest-hit areas. “It’s like a ghost town,” he said. “Ten thousand houses and all the schools are destroyed.”

A total of 130 schools were completely destroyed in the areas worst affected by the earthquake and aftershocks. Many other buildings were damaged beyond repair or are considered unsafe to use. “Families are sleeping in tents, in their cars and in makeshift shelters wherever they can,” said Mr. Salazar. He described the scene in the quake zone, where tents have been put up on road medians and sidewalks, in parks and every other open area.

Given extremely cold night time temperatures, the situation leaves children highly vulnerable to illness. UNICEF has responded quickly to the most immediate need with 10,000 blankets.

“The temperature is down to five degrees Celsius,” said Mr. Salazar, adding that the harsh conditions also take a strong psychological toll. “For children it’s very difficult. Not only have they lost all their possessions, but they are very frightened by all the aftershocks of the earthquake. They are crying a lot and not sleeping well.”

To help address this trauma, UNICEF plans to offer psychosocial support and temporary schools to the community in the coming weeks.

© UNICEF Iran/2006/Ghobadzadeh
Mehdi Yaramahdi, 7, with a family member in the tent where they are living due to quake damage to their home.

Children long for normalcy

Seven-year-old Mehdi Yarahmadi’s school books were among the possessions his family managed to save before the earthquake struck his village last week. Initial tremors warned them of the coming quake, and the family took shelter after saving some essential household furnishings – thus escaping serious injury or death.

Mehdi’s father, Ahmad Yarahmadi, encourages him to study for a few hours each day. Maintaining this kind of regular routine is extremely important for children in crisis situations, as it helps relieve some of the stress they feel. Although the Yarahmadi family salvaged many of their belongings, their house is badly damaged and not safe to reoccupy.

“I lost my two cows, which were feeding us,” said Mr. Yarahmadi. “I don’t know how I will rebuild my house. I don’t have any money or income to pay for that.”

Another young quake survivor, Ali Biroonvand, 15, is eager to get back to school and meet his friends again. “But the earthquake took away my books and my homework,” he said. Although Ali tried to go to school on Monday, when classes were supposed to restart after the Persian New Year holidays, the authorities said it was too dangerous and students were not allowed in.

The manager of Ali’s school, which serves 260 students in the village of Darb-e Astaneh, told UNICEF he was trying to get enough books and stationery to be able to start classes again next week under a tent.

© UNICEF Iran/2006/Ghobadzadeh
Mehdi is one of an estimated 36,000 children affected by the 31 March earthquake in Iran.

Recovery and reconstruction

After the initial earthquake, the government and Iranian Red Crescent responded swiftly, distributing tents, blankets and other supplies in the affected region almost immediately. UNICEF added to this effort with the first international aid to reach some of the most affected villages.

Additional supplies – including children’s clothes, blankets, dolls and tents – were released by officials in Bam, where they had been donated by UNICEF following the 2003 earthquake there. UNICEF’s actions are part of a coordinated United Nations effort led by the Resident Coordinator and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The children and families of Lorestan will continue to need considerable help. To facilitate recovery and reconstruction, an expert team of two UNICEF child protection officers, an education officer and a UNESCO staff member arrived on the scene this week. The team is assessing the damage to education facilities and the psychological status of children in the area.

Based on the team’s findings, a plan of action will be developed and implemented with the government and partners. The State Welfare Organization has already agreed with UNICEF to establish 35 rural childcare centres in the hardest-hit villages. These centres, along with appropriate educational and psychosocial interventions, should help children overcome the stress and trauma caused by the earthquake.

Blue Chevigny contributed to this story from New York.




5 April 2006:
UNICEF’s Representative for Iran, Christian Salazar, spoke with UNICEF Radio about the response to the earthquake emergency in Iran.
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