Iran Earthquake Situation Report No. 3 (final)

The relief operation ended on 1 November, although at the year's end occasional relief parcels were still being distributed to some of the worst-off. The operation assisted nearly 80,000 people instead of the 60,000 originally foreseen in the appeal and lasted longer than planned because of continuing needs. Assistance comprised monthly food parcels, shelter and household items.
appeal no. 07/97
period covered: 28 February - 1 November 1997

7 January 1998 IRAN: EARTHQUAKE

The Disaster

An earthquake measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale struck the districts of Ardebil and Meshkinshahr in the province of Ardebil in north-west Iran on Friday, 28 February at 13.01 hours GMT. More than 1,000 aftershocks were felt, with the strongest one, measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale, hitting the same area on 2 March. Another, which created additional damage and measured 4.1 degrees, struck at 10.14 local time in Nir District on 8 April.

Official statistics on the destruction wrought by the 28 February earthquake include:

  • 850 persons dead
  • 2,600 injured (1,000 people received medical treatment in hospitals and clinics located in Namin, Sarab, and Sarein)
  • 79,658 persons (11,433 families) affected in 123 villages
  • 12,000 homes 20% damaged
  • 8,500 homes 100% damaged
  • 160,000 livestock killed
  • 347 km of roads destroyed
  • 49 medical centres destroyed
The Government of Iran estimated the total damage at approximately USD 76 million.

Red Cross/Red Crescent action

On learning of the earthquake the IRCS immediately mobilised 2,000 relief workers from the Ardebil branch, neighbouring branches, and its headquarters in Tehran. At the height of the operation, more than 5,000 trained relief workers and local volunteers were mobilised. In addition, vehicles and other heavy equipment, ambulances and telecommunications equipment were put at the disposal of the Society's relief effort. The IRCS relief operation was also supported by 46 army helicopters.

The Society set up three relief and rescue task force units (TFUs) in Ardebil, Nir, and Sarab, plus three sub-units in Sarein, Khoshkehrode and Arjestan. The search and rescue phase of the operation was completed in the first 24 hours. The emergency housing of the survivors of the earthquake took some 10 days.

The operation was hampered by extreme weather conditions in the form of freezing temperatures and large snowfalls. The heavy loss of life was to some extent attributable to the fact that many remote villages could not be easily accessed and to the difficulties in surviving the aftermath of the earthquake. Some survivors were in fact evacuated from their villages in order to limit the distance which had to be travelled by the TFUs to reach and supply the survivors.

On 6 March, the IRCS established a customs clearance team in Mehrabad Airport, Tehran, responsible for receiving consignments from abroad and forwarding them to distribution posts. Although Ardebil itself has a large airport, it was not sufficiently large to receive transport aircraft. Moreover, the prevailing weather conditions could not guarantee the safe passage of any kind of flights. An Iranian army plane crashed several days after the earthquake as a result of snowstorms and fog.

Relief supplies were stored in the Society's main relief base in Yaftabad, outside Tehran, and transported to the disaster site. Secondary storage space was made available by the Ardebil provincial branch and local government authorities outside of Ardebil.

Survivors of the earthquake were housed by IRCS in tents, sports halls, mosques and other public buildings. The IRCS distributed basic food and everyday items, during the period from 28 February to 7 March 1997. After that date, on the basis of the ration cards issued by the Society, family parcels containing one month's supply of food and hygienic items were distributed. Below is the average monthly distribution package to the beneficiaries:

Rice 2 kgs per person
Pulses 1 kg per person
Sugar 1 kg per person
Cooking oil 1/2 kg per person
Tea 250 kgs per person
Dates 5 kgs per person
Soap 1 bar per person
Blanket 3 pcs per person
Detergent 1 box (480 grams)
Mats 1 piece per family

In all, the IRCS distributed a total of 14,000 tents, 178,000 blankets, 20,000 stoves, 7,000 kitchen sets, 800 mt of bread and 1.2 mt of other food items. Attached in annex is a distribution list with CHF values.

Needs were assessed in the field by the most experienced staff of the Society's relief department using household surveys and rapid assessments of damaged private and public buildings undertaken immediately after the earthquake. Beneficiaries were identified on the basis of immediate need, normally determined by the level of destruction to their homes or their overall ability to cope with the aftermath of the earthquake. For example, those families which may have had little damage to their homes but lost their breadwinner were included in the beneficiary list. Beneficiaries were provided with ration cards for the duration of the operation. Needs were communicated to Tehran, and goods were released from the warehouse in the main relief base in Tehran, or other relief bases located throughout the country.

The Society's resources were spread very thin, especially during the early phase of the operation before the arrival of international assistance, because of two other major operations in the six month period leading up to the Ardebil quake: the Iraqi Kurd refugee population which arrived in western Iran from September-December 1996, then an earthquake in the northeast in Borjnud in January 1997. This reduced the level of buffer stocks available throughout the country, but the Society was nevertheless able to cope. It established more than 370 collecting posts in some 240 branches to collect public donations.

Present Situation

The operation began immediately after the earthquake struck on 28 February 1997 and Federation involvement officially lasted until 30 June 1997. Nevertheless, because of the strain on national resources as a result of the large number of natural disasters in the country in the last year, there is still a large number of people in need of assistance. IRCS continued providing food and living items to the affected population until 1 November 1997. From that time on, the Society's activities have been limited to the provision of occasional food and relief parcels in favour of specially targeted groups.

The Appeal

Within hours of the earthquake, the IRCS contacted the Federation Secretariat to request the launch of an international appeal. The release of CHF 50,000 from the Federation's Disaster Relief Emergency Fund was immediately approved and on 4 March 1997 the Federation launched appeal 7/97 for CHF 9,012,000 to support the IRCS relief action. A total of CHF 2,752,684 was received, CHF 1,997,511 in cash and CHF 755,173 in kind, representing 31% of the total appeal. The objective of the appeal was to provide basic relief assistance to 12,000 families over the four month period from March-June 1997.

Given the experience and professionalism of the IRCS, no request was made for expatriate personnel to assist in the relief operation. The Secretariat's non-resident Representative to the IRCS visited the disaster zone two weeks after the earthquake struck, from 16-18 March, along with representatives from the Islamic Development Bank and ADRA/Germany who were both evaluating longer-term reconstruction and rehabilitation projects jointly with IRCS. The Federation Representative also met with IRCS officials in Ardebil province and at headquarters in Tehran, as well as with the UN Resident Co-ordinator.

External relations - Government/UN/NGOs/Media

The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran activated the Disaster Task Force of the Ministry of the Interior as soon as news of the earthquake became available. This task force is a permanent structure which co-ordinates other government departments such as the Ministries of Health, Rural Development, Power and Telecommunications in times of disaster. The Ministry of the Interior is the overall co-ordinating body for this kind of operation. Apart from co-ordination, it was responsible for the health sector and infrastructure repair. As an auxiliary to the government, IRCS was initially made responsible for the management of the relief operation until completion of the emergency phase. A UN assessment team was sent to the area shortly after the earthquake to assist in determining needs. At the request of the government, on 4 March the United Nations launched an appeal for Iran. The Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA) was responsible for channelling assistance to the government through the UN Resident Co-ordinator in Iran. The Federation Secretariat and DHA co-ordinated their activities in order to avoid overlap and duplication throughout the duration of the operation.

No international NGOs were working in this relief operation but there were many national NGOs and religious charities involved, all of which co-ordinated their activities with IRCS.

The earthquake elicited very strong interest on the part of the international media, which contributed to the success of the operation by attracting world wide attention and support.

Analysis of the Operation

Needs Assessment

As mentioned earlier, the needs assessment was carried out by the members of the IRCS relief teams specialised in this task. The methodology adopted was a household survey and joint visits with local authorities. The assessment was discussed with the Federation's non-resident Representative during his visit to the earthquake zone. The target groups identified by the IRCS were those people who had suffered either human or material loss and who were no longer in a position to sustain themselves and their families.

The identification of beneficiaries proved to be an accurate reflection of the situation, and the number of people requiring assistance throughout the period remained relatively stable. Beneficiary lists were reviewed on a regular basis and adjusted accordingly.

Objectives/Plan of Action

The objective of the operation, to provide basic relief assistance to 12,000 families over the four month period from March-June 1997, remained unchanged and appropriate. The number of beneficiaries retained in the original appeal of 4 March 1997, 60,000 people, increased during the operational period, rising to nearly 80,000.

Only minor modifications to the objectives were made, although the duration of the operation was extended and the number of beneficiaries increased. The operation was originally planned for a four month period, after which time it was expected that the Ministry of the Interior, as co-ordinating body of the Iranian government, would take over responsibility. The Federation's involvement in the relief operation is officially completed. The results of the intervention were positive, albeit with some difficulties, expanded upon below.

Problems Encountered/Lessons Learned

As is often the case in earthquake disasters, the most important problems are related to conditions over which relief workers have very little control. The first major problem encountered was a major snowfall in the area on 7 March. More than one metre of snow blocked roads to nearly all of the affected villages. Moreover, temperatures dropped to -18 C during the day and -28 C at night. There is little the Society could have done to improve its preparedness and the efficiency of its response in light of these powerful forces of nature.

In the middle phase of the operation, especially from May onwards, there was also an acute shortage of resources because of the previous disasters. However, the generous outpouring of assistance on the national and international level following the third and most powerful earthquake to hit the country -- on 10 May in Khorasan province -- eventually reduced the strain on dwindling supplies. On the other hand, the appeal was far from being fully covered (31%) because the Ardebil operation was eclipsed by the larger earthquake in Khorasan.

Finally, the main relief base used by the Society had not been sufficiently maintained and the Society was in the process of constructing a new one when the earthquake struck.

There was some variance between the planned budget and actual expenditures. IRCS was able to cope with the majority of relief supply purchases locally with funds channelled through the Federation, national fundraising campaigns, and bilateral contributions originally channelled to the government. In line with the changing needs of the operation, particularly the shortage of vehicles able to reach the victims, the Secretariat used some of the unearmarked funds gathered from the operation to purchase six 4WD vehicles which were not originally requested in the appeal, and 175,000 square metres of tent canvas for the fabrication of tents in Iran.


Given the difficult terrain and unfavourable climatic conditions, as well as its shortage of material resources, it is remarkable that the Society was able to achieve what it did. The Society is now more experienced than it would perhaps like to be in the area of emergency services following earthquakes, other natural disasters, but came out of this experience as well as that of the earthquake in Khorasan as a stronger National Society and relief organisation. A number of lessons have been learned which will be implemented in the future to improve the Society's performance. Some are mentioned above; others are detailed in the final report of the Khorasan earthquake operation.

On behalf of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, the Federation would like to thank all the donors who made this operation possible.

Jean Ayoub
Acting Director
Middle East & North Africa Dept.

Ann Naef
Acting Head
Appeals & Reports Service