Iran: Bam earthquake - Five years later

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The psychological scars still linger from the devastating earthquake that destroyed almost the entire city of Bam in December 2003. The massive quake killed some 26,000 people and left 30,000 with life long injuries. Five years on people still struggle to cope while around them reconstruction continues. The Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) has played a vital role in the healing process and, perhaps just as importantly, in preparing the people of Bam to minimize loss of life and property should a sudden disaster strike in the future.

Ali Hafeziyan, who spearheaded the IRCS emergency operation in Bam, lost 86 relatives in the earthquake, 32 of them close members of his family. He found the courage to overcome his grief and focus his energy on rescuing survivors immediately after the disaster. "This disaster and all the destruction will never be forgotten," he says, adding that the outpouring of international assistance will always be remembered.

Over five years, the number of active volunteers in the Bam branch of the IRCS has grown significantly from a mere 400 to 3,000. First aid and disaster management training programmes in particular are prioritized. The IRCS central warehouse has expanded from 400 to 7,000 square metres and now contains pre-positioned essential relief items to meet the immediate emergency needs of 60,000 people.

"There is no doubt the disaster sparked a much greater understanding among Bam's population of the necessity for better preparation, such as well-trained volunteers and putting emergency stocks in place," explains Mohamed Babiker, IFRC representative in Iran. "Over the years, the IRCS has intensified its work to include promoting awareness among the public about early warning systems, and training its staff and volunteers - as well as community leaders, in contingency planning and risk analysis."

Within hours of the earthquake striking, IRCS rescue teams were mobilized and pulled hundreds of survivors from the rubble of their homes. Dozens of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies from around the world sent emergency response teams, field hospitals and relief goods to the stricken city. The relief operation, led by the IRCS and coordinated by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), also included much-needed psychological support. Because rehabilitation and reconstruction needs were assessed early on, by September 2004, the IFRC began the construction of nine schools, one urban health centre and a road rescue base, and a programme to enhance IRCS capacity to deal with future disasters.

Today, nearly 2,000 children attend classes in these nine schools, and the young generations represent the city's hope for a better future. "In five years, the first medical students who started their studies in our schools will begin practising medicine," notes Mohamed Babiker.

The widespread public admiration for the extraordinary work of IRCS relief and rescue teams in those hellish days following the earthquake explains the significant increase in the number of IRCS volunteers. "The fact that people who were then assisted have now joined the Red Crescent to help others in case of future crises, shows that our preparations are on the right track. Bam has emerged from this tragedy as a model for other cities in this highly disaster-prone country," concludes Mohamed Babiker.

Note to editors:

Video footage shot in Bam in December 2008 (B-Roll 8'50"), was broadcast via EBU in Geneva on 19 December.

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