Iran: Normality slowly returns to Bam

Originally published
by Till Mayer in Bam
Three hookah water pipes rattle in competition, the smell of perfumed tobacco is in the air. Green apples vanishing in grey light clouds. Behind palm twigs time stands still. At Mohammed's place you find sweet tea, cool shadows and rest.

Less than three metres away, the traffic rushes by. A battered car creaks over the dusty road. A collapsing wall has crumpled the passenger, and now there is a sheet of plastic where a window used to be. A heavy truck laden with debris roars by. The tea in the glass trembles.

Bam is on the road to recovery.

Traders hawk their goods: shoes from China, fresh melons and colourful soft-drinks. At traffic junctions, stalls have sprouted like mushrooms, especially since the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) switched from food relief to cash distributions.

The owner of the hookah pipes and tea house looks out over the heads of his guests to the road. In the corner of his cabin an ancient TV crackles and flickers. Cars outside hoot their way free of the jam.

"What traffic," sighs the landlord. And he is happy about it. For a long time there had been silence in Bam.

Tens of thousands of people died, 85 per cent of all buildings were destroyed. For months the entire city has been traumatized. There is still much work for the IRCS psychosocial support teams and aid-workers. But normality, while still far off, is returning more rapidly than before.

The destroyed city of Bam is changing. Everywhere bulldozers are roaring to clear millions of tons of rubble.

The government is working closely with NGOs and UN agencies to erect temporary prefabricated housing for 22,000 families in camps and amongst the ruins of the former buildings. The Republic of Korea Red Cross is building 100 prefabs. According to the authorities the last families will move from tents into the prefabs by the end of this month.

It is an important goal, because heat and sandstorms constitute a heavy burden for the population. Nahid Nikzadeh knows this only too well. The 35-year-old often has to go out at night when sandstorms pull at the tarpaulins and threatened to overturn his tent. Now there is a small but new one-room house on her property.

Its 20 square meters offers just enough space for her husband, three-year-old twins and herself to sleep in. The family also received a room cooler and a refrigerator. From the ceiling a naked bulb hangs down.

There is no comparison between this temporary pre-fabricated house and the big two-storey building the family owned before the quake. But Nahid Nikzadeh is happy to have a roof over her head again.

"Unfortunately the children fear that everything will collapse, if a new earthquake hits the city. And not too long ago we had a quite strong quake," she explains.

As long as rubble remains in front of her new home, she is unable to forget the disaster. The elegant marble floor of her former living room, which remains intact, reminds her of what the family once owned. It contrasts starkly with the dreary heap of ruins which stand out against the blue of the sky.

Nahid Nikazadeh does not want to complain. "Many others lost more than we did. The house is destroyed and maybe we will never be able to rebuild it to its old size. But both of my children and my husband are alive. What is most important is that my family is well," the 35-year-old says as she hangs out freshly-washed clothes.

"There is one good thing to come out of the earthquake - all the neighbours have stuck together. In these bad times we have found many real friends," she adds.

It is difficult for Zahra Vahedi to find words of comfort. While she and her husband survived the terrible night of 26 December, both of her children were buried under the rubble. The disaster seems to have turned the 35-year-old into an old woman.

Now she lives with her husband in the Gullestan Camp. Prefabricated houses are lined up. In front of each unit a big blue cooler shuffles cold air into the rooms. At the back, every unit has its own shower/latrine. For her, the IRCS, supported by the Federation, has provided a connection to the city water supply system.

Everywhere in the city you can see the Red Crescent aid workers. After the quake the IRCS supported the whole city, distributed tents, blankets, heaters, food, kitchen sets, cooling boxes, hygiene kits and many other items.

Now the time for reconstruction has come and the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement will play its part in building the new Bam.

"The Iranian Red Crescent, supported by the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, is working on a plan to rehabilitate and reconstruct the health care, education and social welfare infrastructure of Bam. The plan will also include rebuilding IRCS facilities which were damaged or destroyed in the earthquake," says Mohammed Mukhier, the Head of Federations Iran delegation.

"At the moment, the Red Crescent field hospital is still the only operational hospital providing emergency and medical care for the people in Bam."

It is hard for Zahra Vahedi to imagine a future in Bam. "Our house is completely destroyed. I do not know if we can ever rebuild it, even with credit from the government. Even if we can, I will always fear another earthquake for the rest of my life. But we have no money to leave the city," she explains in a low voice.

There is a lot of work to be done to convince Zahra Vahedi that there is a future waiting for her in Bam.