Situation Report No. 7 (final)

Situation Report
Originally published
appeal no. 10/97
The operation for 60,000 Khorasan earthquake victims supported by a Federation appeal was carried out as scheduled and has now been concluded, although the Iranian Red Crescent Society is continuing to provide assistance to those not yet rehoused. The Federation and a group of National Societies are now studying rehabilitation projects.

The Disaster

The worst earthquake to hit Iran since 1990 struck Khorasan province in the east of the country just after midday local time on Saturday, 10 May 1997. The epicentre was located 530 kilometres to the south-east of the provincial capital Mashad. Measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale, the disaster brought widespread death and devastation to the villages surrounding two major population centres, Birjand and Qaen. This part of Iran is very susceptible to earthquakes and this was the second to strike the area within four months and the third to hit Iran within the same period. It was felt in the neighbouring provinces of Semnan, Sistan, and Kerman, as well as villages close to the Iranian border with Afghanistan. Hundreds of aftershocks, some as big as 5.9 on the Richter scale, caused further damage to dwellings but no casualties.

The final statistics for damages are as follows:

  • 1,728 people dead
  • 5,059 injured
  • 32 villages completely destroyed
    68 villages 80-90% damaged
    23 villages 30% damaged
  • 12,000 families displaced (approximately 60,000 people)
  • loss of 42,000 head of cattle.
The UN has placed the total value of damage at approximately USD 90 million. In addition to heavy loss of life, the earthquake had a large impact on the physical infrastructure of the area, bringing down power lines, blocking roads, and polluting the water supply.

Red Cross/Red Crescent Action

The Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) responded to this disaster by immediately sending rescue teams from Khorasan region and other parts of Iran. Search and rescue operations went on continuously for the first 48 hours after the quake. The Society mobilised some 4,300 relief workers and volunteers, 300 vehicles, and 110 ambulances. The Iranian government also sent rescue teams to the area, and Iranian Army units helped in the transportation of relief items. Other government ministries, including Health, Road and Transportation, Agriculture, and Construction, were involved in the relief effort in addition to the important assistance received from the local population. IRCS volunteer Task Force Units (TFUs) were established in Qaen and Birjand to assist in providing statistics and back up for distribution. Additional units were stationed in outlying villages to carry out the distribution of relief items.

The IRCS alone was responsible for the distribution of 63,000 tents, 134,000 blankets. 19,000 stoves, and large quantities of food supplies (see attached distribution report). These supplies were purchased by the Society with its own funds and those transferred by the Federation Secretariat, donated in kind by Sister National Societies and Governments, or passed on by Iranian Government services. Many of the tents and blankets had been produced in the IRCS tent and blanket factories.

Given the experience and professionalism of the IRCS, no request was made for expatriate personnel to assist in the relief operation. Nevertheless, the Federation Secretariat's Senior Officer for Disaster Response travelled to Iran five days after the earthquake to provide initial back up to the Society with the establishment of a satellite link to the disaster site, to assist in the channelling of international assistance, and to provide information to the media and other interested parties.

IRCS established a logistics base at Mashad airport to receive international donations. When Mashad airport become congested, however, as a result of the massive influx of foreign assistance, flights were diverted to Tehran to ensure a smooth supply of goods to the affected area. These donations were all co-ordinated at headquarters in Tehran. Secondary distribution points were established in the village of Esfedan (Qaen district) and in Birjand.

Needs were assessed in the field by the most experienced staff of the Society's relief department based on household surveys and rapid assessments made 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 confront the aftermath of the earthquake. For example, those families which may have had little damage to their homes but lost their breadwinner would be included in the beneficiary list. Beneficiaries were provided with ration cards for the duration of the operation. These needs were then communicated to Tehran, and goods were then released from the warehouse in Mashad, the main relief base in Tehran, or other relief bases located throughout the country.

Rations were initially distributed on a daily basis, and shortly thereafter on a weekly basis. After the first month of the operation up to the present day, distributions are made on a monthly basis.

Present Situation

The operation was intended to last for a four month period, from 10 May until mid-September, but the IRCS continues to provide assistance to some 57,134 beneficiaries who are still unable to make a living or who have not yet been able to reconstruct their homes. In Qaen, the IRCS TFUs are still helping the affected people in Esfedan, Zohan, Hajiabad, Ahangaran, and Aviz. 16 IRCS staff with 28 volunteers are providing services to 46,134 people. In Birjand, 26 relief workers handle the distribution of relief supplies to 11,000 beneficiaries. IRCS is also still providing water to remote villages using the two 18,000 litre water tankers provided through the appeal. Each family receives a monthly supply of food and hygienic items. The Society plans to continue assisting the population with relief supplies until the reconstruction phase is completed in early 1998.

Meanwhile, it is estimated that the government's efforts to rebuild homes will be largely completed within the next two months and most of the families who were made homeless by the earthquake will at least be housed. However, some of the families will have to stay in temporary shelters until their villages have been relocated to safer places. Reconstruction efforts have been hastened due to the onset of winter in the region. The concerned municipalities have all been able to provide the majority of damaged towns in both districts with water and electricity. All of the roads in the area have been cleared and are now in use.

The Federation is assisting the Society with rehabilitation programmes which would take place along side the relief operation. A group of interested National Societies has been formed which is in the process of studying the projects proposed by the IRCS. These projects include: construction of two dormitories (one each in Qaen and Birjand districts), two public baths, two road shelters, a relief complex, and two relief bases. A meeting will be held shortly in Tehran with interested parties to discuss the projects in order to begin implementation by early 1998.

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 100,000 from the Federation's Disaster Relief Emergency Fund was immediately approved and the appeal, for CHF 12 million, to assist 60,000 beneficiaries for a four month period, was launched on 11 May 1997, the day after the quake struck. Situation reports were issued on a near daily basis for the first few days, then once a month when the emergency phase stabilised. A report on the operation was made in the form of a video which was distributed to donor Societies, international relief agencies, and governments.

The response to the appeal was rapid, generous, and met the immediate needs of the victims of the earthquake. Some 60% of the appeal was covered within the first few days in the form of cash and in kind contributions. A number of National Societies, including those of Belgium, Canada, Greece, Spain, Switzerland, UK and USA launched extensive fund-raising efforts in their countries on behalf of the appeal. These efforts contributed greatly to the success of the appeal and to nearly reaching the CHF 12 million target within a short period. A total of CHF 11,605,883 was received for the appeal, of which CHF 6,359,297 was in kind and CHF 5,246,586 in cash, resulting in a 97% coverage. Important additional funds are expected to be received for the rehabilitation phase of the programme, not covered in this appeal. Attached in annex is a list of contributions.

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, Construction, Power and Telecommunications in times of disaster. The Iranian Red Crescent is a member of this task force. The Ministry of the Interior is the overall co-ordinating body for this kind of operation. The government appealed for international assistance shortly after the earthquake which facilitated international assistance and media coverage of the events. At the same time, it earmarked some USD 3.3 million for the emergency operation.

Apart from co-ordination, the government 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. IRCS continues to co-ordinate its work in the rehabilitation phase of the programme with the government since the programme envisages the construction of some public buildings. The Government of Iran has allocated some CHF 225 million to rebuild the earthquake affected villages.

There has been excellent co-operation between the IRCS, the Federation and the United Nations during this disaster. The United Nations Mission in Tehran made an assessment of the damage and needs shortly after the earthquake struck. The Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA) and the Office of the UN Resident Co-ordinator issued an appeal for assistance on behalf of the Iranian government on 11 May 1997. DHA immediately contributed USD 88,000. In September the Iranian government and DHA carried out a joint evaluation of this earthquake as well as the two others which took place earlier in the year. The IRCS was actively involved in supporting this mission and providing necessary logistic back up. The purpose of the mission was to evaluate the assistance provided by international donors. A number of national NGOs in Iran participated in the relief effort and co-ordinated their work closely with the Iranian Red Crescent. Some international NGOs, including Oxfam UK and Islamic Relief World-wide, made important in-kind contributions in response to the Federation appeal.

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 Senior Liaison Officer upon his arrival a few days after the earthquake. 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 assist 60,000 earthquake victims through the provision of relief supplies, remained unchanged and appropriate. No modifications to the objectives were made, although the duration of the operation has been extended. The Federation's involvement in the relief operation, however, is officially completed. The results of the intervention were positive, albeit with some difficulties which are expanded upon below.

Problems Encountered/Lessons Learned

In the early stages of the operation the major problem confronting the emergency operation was the harsh physical and climatic conditions in the affected zone. The area is mountainous with temperatures cold to freezing at night, even during the months of Spring. Earthquake victims required immediate attention if they were to survive these difficult conditions. Added to this difficulty was the massive infrastructural damage wrought by the earthquake: rescue teams could not reach some of the villages in the Qaen area quickly. Not only were the roads badly damaged, but there was no smooth area on which helicopters could land. The delay in reaching this area undoubtedly led to some loss of life.

Within a few weeks, the next major challenge to the operation was the shortage of drinking water: many villages had lost their drinking water supply as it had been contaminated by earth-falls or pipes and water systems which had been destroyed by the force of the quake. Many villagers were forced to walk long distances to collect water and it took some time before IRCS could begin transporting and distributing water. Water bladders were purchased locally and shipped from abroad, and the Secretariat mobilised the purchase and transportation of two large water trucks from the East Africa regional delegation. Altogether, seventeen water tanks were purchased with funds contributed to the appeal. They were filled by the water tankers that the Society used to keep villages supplied with water. In addition, IRCS set up 20 field shower blocks in various locations to attend to the hygienic needs of the population. With the addition of the two large water tankers to the IRCS fleet, the Society will be better prepared to face problems of water shortages in future operations.

The desert climate in the Qaen area makes it susceptible to strong desert winds. During July, these seasonal winds blew away or destroyed many of the tents. Some of the tents which had been donated through international appeals were easily blown away or destroyed. This problem highlighted a larger and more persistent problem encountered in relief operations of this nature where inappropriate supplies are sent to the disaster area. It was especially acute with tents in this operation as all kinds, sizes, and colours were received. In some cases no instructions on how to mount the tents were packed or were written in languages incomprehensible to the Iranian Red Crescent staff.

This issue was discussed with the IRCS and it was agreed that the Federation Secretariat would purchase, with unearmarked funds pledged towards the appeal, rolls of treated canvas to supply the IRCS tent factory with the necessary raw ingredients to produce a large stock of tents. Some 500,000 square metres of canvas has been purchased and will be used to produce more than 13,000 tents, roughly 20% of what IRCS estimates it needs to fill its warehouses. The tents would be made available to replace the tents in use in this disaster and to refurbish the Society's stock for the next disaster. In this way there will not only be a buffer stock for future emergencies but also a standardised type of tent for each kind of climatic situation in which the victims are found.

While the IRCS was able to manage the saturation of the airports in Tehran and especially Mashad in the days following the quake, it was clear that even with a 24 hour presence at the airport, logistical problems and delays would be encountered due to the large volume of supplies entering the country. The de-congestion of Mashad airport was achieved only after the decision was taken to re-route as much as possible flights to Tehran where items could be classified, stored, and then transported in an orderly way.

There was some variance between what had been proposed in the initial budget of the appeal and actual expenditure. This was largely a result of the large proportion of the appeal responded to in kind (60%) rather than in cash (40%). Of the cash received, some 50% was unearmarked. IRCS was able to raise large amounts of funds both from its own national campaign as well as from bilateral donations and donations channelled to it through the government. It was thus decided to use the funds generated locally to purchase the bulk of relief items and to use the Federation-collected funds, apart from those which were earmarked, for items required on the international market: 325,000 square metres of tent canvas (equivalent to approximately 6,500 tents), two water tankers each with an 18,000.litre capacity, and eleven 4WD vehicles. One contribution was used for the purchase of two pieces of heavy duty multi-purpose equipment.

IRCS provided the Secretariat with important and timely information concerning the earthquake, especially during the early stages when situation reports were produced on a near daily basis. It did, however, become more difficult to obtain the same detailed information as the operation progressed. It is now clear from this experience that it is essential that a culturally sensitive Liaison delegate be assigned to work with the Society to ensure a steady flow of narrative and financial information if such a major natural disaster is repeated.

IRCS has been able to provide detailed documentation on the distribution of all of the material which it has purchased itself or received through other channels (Federation appeal, bilateral and national donations, government assistance etc.). The Society, however, does not yet have in place a tracking system that would enable it to trace each and every individual relief consignment to its precise destination. The Secretariat will be investing some time and assistance in introducing such a system into the standard procedures of the Society over the next year so that future distribution reporting can be more exact.


The chief strength of this operation was clearly the rapid mobilisation of the IRCS. Innumerable lives were saved because of the effectiveness of the quick response of the Society. But international donors to the Federation appeal also must be praised for their generous response as well. The appeal was able to not only galvanise support from traditional Federation donors but from an even wider spectrum of donors than usual, including many that had never before contributed to Federation appeals. Co-operation with DHA and the Government of Iran also greatly contributed to the success of the operation.

Some of the problems encountered in the course of the operation mentioned above clearly had a negative impact on the operation. It is hoped, however, that all involved will have learned from these difficulties so that they can be avoided in future operations. The importance of disaster preparedness has been known for a long time by the IRCS, the Federation Secretariat and other relief partners, and many concrete steps have been taken in the past to place the Society on alert for new disasters. The magnitude of this disaster, coming on the heels of several other major disasters, however, made it nearly impossible for the Society to be completely prepared. Nonetheless, some new measures have been introduced as a result of this operation which will hopefully ensure that the Society does not find itself again in a situation where relief warehouses were almost empty.

The International Federation, on behalf of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, would like to express its gratitude to all sister National Societies and their governments as well as other organisations and individuals who contributed to this appeal for their generosity.

Jean Ayoub
Acting Director
Middle East & North Africa Dept.

Ann Naef
Acting Head
Appeals & Reports Service