UNICEF Humanitarian Action: Earthquake in Bam, Iran donor update 27 Jan 2003

    The earthquake that hit Bam on the morning of December 26th left the city of Bam and its surrounding communities in complete devastation. Over 85% of buildings collapsed, including houses, schools and health centres. Some 41,000 lives1 were lost and 30,000 people were wounded. It is estimated that some 75,000 people are made homeless.

The basic services of Bam have all but been destroyed. Almost all of the health facilities are destroyed: 95 community-level Health Houses, 24 rural and urban Health Centres and three hospitals of the district with a total of 255 beds. While the percentage of damage varies, currently no health facility is reported to be functional. It is not only the infrastructure that has crumbled. Nearly 50 per cent of the local health staff is reported either dead or missing. Surviving health workers are struggling to cope with their own predicament.

The earthquake damaged two of the 11 drill wells and one of the two main lines in the distribution network that used to provide adequate amount of water to the city of Bam. In surrounding villages, about 20% of the 100 drill wells and six pumps have been destroyed. In the city and in villages, people are largely dependent on water tankers and bottled water.

Some 30 per cent of Bam district's 32,443 students, or 10,000, have perished in the disaster. Out of 3,400 teachers in the Bam district, one third of them were killed. A large majority of the approximately 20,000 surviving students have lost family members; some have been rendered orphans. In terms of infrastructure, some 90% of the existing schools of all levels in Bam, or 131 schools, have been destroyed. The remaining schools have sustained damages that are likely to be beyond repair. The impact of the quake was such that school buildings located as far as 40 to 90 km away were damaged and rendered unfit for continued teaching activities.

In the massive scale of deaths that entailed the earthquake, 1,800 children2 have been orphaned and over 5,000 lost at least one parent. For these children, the most fundamental coping mechanism provided by the primary caregivers is abruptly taken away, leaving them to face this hardship on their own and facing increased risk of abuse and exploitation. Many orphaned children have been transferred to Tehran, Kerman and Shiraz and elsewhere, requiring complicated tracing and reunification programmes, including the provision of care and protection in a family environment. The psychological impact of the sudden death and destruction affects all surviving populations of Bam, including children.


By the fourth week since the disaster, an increasing number of people are coming back to the area to rebuild their homes and lives. For most resident population, livelihoods are shattered and surviving families shaken beyond belief. Government authorities, UN agencies and various local and international NGOs work hard to support the rehabilitation process but many challenges lie ahead.

Nutrition and Health

While immediate medical relief has been provided to the injured, essential primary health care services for children and women remain disrupted, including child immunization and maternal and antenatal care. While no immediate outbreak of communicable or non-communicable diseases has been reported so far, the interruption of preventive health services, the depletion of health resources, and the lack of adequate access to sanitation could have drastic consequences in the population's health, if appropriate interventions remain unavailable.

Currently, WFP and the Iranian Red Crescent Society have distributed approximately 100,000 food rations, cooking utensils and fuel. Six mobile or permanent bakeries are capable of producing 4.4 MT of bread a day, with some 30 MT of bread being baked in Kerman and distributed everyday in Bam. However, the nutritional status of children remains of concern. In some two weeks following the disaster, while food ration distribution was being set up, most people had to subsist on canned food irrespective of the nutritional requirements of children. The nutritional needs of children who lost care givers require special attention. Residential centres where these orphans are being cared for are stretched thin in terms of providing food and other basic care for the added number of residents.

Water and Environmental Sanitation

Some damages to the water distribution network have been repaired quickly by workers and equipment brought in from other provinces. However, serious challenge remains as efforts to pump more water into the network add pressure to the fragile status of pipes and result in additional breaks and leaks, thus undermining the quality of water. As a result, water pressure is kept low - at some 1/5 of the full pressure needed to discharge sufficient quantity to the residents. As the supply of tapped water remains far below the demand, the Bam city residents have placed their metal water tanks, toppled from the roof top of their former homes, beside their tent and get them filled by the water tankers that distribute treated water. Some collect water at 60 distribution points. Also, sufficient quantities of bottled water continue to be distributed. In the camps, water tanks are erected along the tents. While residents are getting adequate amount of drinking water, the continued difficulty in rehabilitating the distribution networks results in significantly insufficient quantity of water for non-drinking purposes. For a fourth week, residents have not been able to wash themselves. Some residents who were able to do so have had to travel 200 km to Kerman in order to take a shower. Access to latrines is limited and an urgent issue to be addressed for the resident population of Bam.


Slowly education is resuming, albeit in less structured format. As at 13 January, some 2,500 students of all levels have registered at tents and containers that have been set up in former school grounds. Some 125 elementary school teachers, many of them injured, have re-registered to teach. Some estimated 110-120 lower-secondary teachers and 70-80 secondary school teachers have come back as well. The dedication of the teachers is inspiring. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake the authorities had feared that there would be no teachers in Bam and had requested other provinces to send in teachers and volunteers. With so many of Bam's teachers returning, the authorities strongly believe that these teachers, rather than outsiders, should greet and teach children since they can better identify with the children's distress and concerns.

In spite of the dedication of teachers and hopefulness of the children, grave challenges exist. First is the lack of school facilities, and teaching and learning materials and equipment. The local authorities have selected 26 previous school grounds large enough to accommodate containers or tents to be used for classrooms. Already, 19 of the sites have 'semi-schools,' i.e. containers or tents. The tents, donated from various NGOs, are often too small and activities have commenced without the benefit of materials to aid teaching, learning or recreation, not to mention desks or chairs. Also, with warmer temperatures to arrive fast in this desert region, ventilation and cooling remain a serious concern, as well as the important consideration to be given over the availability of water and sanitation facilities that are required next to these school tents and containers.

Second important challenge is the welfare of Bam's teachers. All of them have been physically and psychologically affected by the disaster and are worried how to provide for and protect their own family members, while helping their students. Education authorities repeatedly stress that until the basic needs of the teachers are met, education activities cannot resume in earnest.

Finally, education in Bam needs to incorporate significant psychosocial intervention to provide psychological and emotional support to the deeply distressed children coming back to school. Bam already has a pool of school counsellors to contribute to this important task. However, teachers in general need training and skills to help identify students in particular distress and refer them to receive expert help.

Child Protection

Psychosocial support for children and their families require intensive planning and coordination between the authorities, UNICEF and the local and international NGOs concerned. With families still scattered across Bam in tents, data gathering and needs assessment require extensive outreach efforts before referrals to counselling groups, social services and specialized treatment can be made. Further, in order to provide children with help through all facets of their lives, training in psychosocial interventions needs to be extended to school counsellors, child care workers, health workers and community leaders, not to mention mental health professionals. As an immediate measure to provide psychosocial support to the distressed children, more recreational tents need to be erected with requisite supply of materials where children and youths can relieve of their stresses and fears for the future, and receive psychological and emotional support from the trained volunteers and social workers.


UNICEF was the first UN agency to arrive in Bam to provide immediate intervention within 48 hours of the disaster. UNICEF Iran was supported by UNICEF offices in New York, Amman, Geneva, Copenhagen, Brussels and Afghanistan to quickly mobilize human, material and financial resources to arrive at the scene with essential life saving supplies. UNICEF headquarters quickly advanced its global funds to UNICEF Iran to enable it to act without the financial constraint, with the condition to reimburse them once donor contributions start to be received.

Health and Nutrition

Given the survival concern immediately following the earthquake, UNICEF rushed to Bam life-saving supplies from UNICEF Afghanistan and UNICEF Supply Centre in Copenhagen within 48 hours of the disaster. These included essential health kits and obstetric kits that can benefit up to 120,000 people. The chartered plane from UNICEF Afghanistan arrived with a UNICEF health expert on board, who not only coordinated the immediate distribution of the supplementary emergency health kits to the field hospitals that were treating the injured people in Bam, but also provided training to the doctors on how each drug and equipment in the supplementary emergency health kit were to be used.

Given the massive quantities of medical equipment and supplies that arrived in Kerman and Bam from governments and NGOs all over the world, additional UNICEF health supplies that have not been immediately consumed are kept with the Ministry of Health for on-going medical intervention across Bam that will likely continue for months to come.

One important contribution of UNICEF in this emergency response actually occurred before the earthquake. As part of its on-going regular Country Programme, UNICEF Iran had supported the government conduct a massive measles and rubella campaign in December 2003 just before the disaster, resulting in over 90 per cent coverage. Often in emergencies, outbreak of measles claims many children's lives; in Bam no measles cases have been reported thus far.

Water and Sanitation

Within two days of the disaster, UNICEF flew in 16 collapsible community water tanks. While the repair of the water distribution network continues, piped water remains insufficient due to the lack of pressure in the pipes. The 16 water tanks have been handed over to the water authorities to be located in most needed places across Bam. The additional water tanks will allow many Bam residents to collect clean drinking water nearer to their tents.

UNICEF has procured 2,000 emergency latrines (squatting plates) and 1,000 plastic sheeting, after careful deliberation with the authorities and the local and international NGOs that agreed to provide an additional total of 3,000 units. This, together with the units to be provided by the government, will enable the government to provide some 7,000 units of urgently needed emergency latrines to the resident population of Bam.

UNICEF is continuing discussions with the authorities on the repair of water distribution system of Bam city, working together to draft a supply list and visiting sites to verify the requirements for supply and equipment needed in future rehabilitation of the system. A supply list has been prepared for the rehabilitation of the water supply system in rural villages and procurement action is underway. UNICEF has also provided a water testing kit and purification chemicals to enable the continued water quality assurance efforts.

While less visible in terms of physical progress on the ground, UNICEF's ability to coordinate all actors and provide technical assistance in the water and sanitation area has been a major contribution. With many technical staff among the water and sanitation authorities killed or injured in the earthquake, the initial weeks of intervention were chaotic. Government counterparts were dispatched from Teheran or other provinces who could not remain in Bam because of their regular responsibilities back home. Furthermore, officials on mission to Bam changed frequently making it difficult to follow through with agreements made in previous meetings. Many NGOs were proceeding with interventions without full coordination with the authorities. UNICEF's unique position in working with the government as the main counterpart and also with various local and international NGOs enabled it to pull together the two groups to work in a harmonized manner, with UNICEF playing a facilitating role, as well as an implementer.

By the third week, UNICEF succeeded in hosting the first ever meeting of all local and international NGOs involved in the water and sanitation sector, led by the Director General of the Environmental Section of the Ministry of Health responsible for water and sanitation at the central government. In this meeting some 40 people sat on the floor of cramped UNICEF tent as UNICEF facilitated the dialogue toward reaching agreed planning assumptions, mapping the needs of communities and resources currently committed by NGOs, identifying gaps and duplications, and making adjustments to individual plans in order to ensure that all communities of Bam benefit from valuable resources brought in by the international community. Furthermore, as a result of the meeting a working group has been set up to work collectively on the design of the emergency latrines, and all NGO agreed on a common procurement process using standardized specifications. While less tangible, these outcomes were sorely needed in moving ahead with programme planning and development in a manner that will allow all to better help the children and their families in the weeks to come.


UNICEF brought in over 400 school-in-a-box kits to Bam on December 30, 2003. Each kit contains school supplies and education materials for up to 80 students and their teachers. Four kits have already been distributed to a play centre in one of the camps where children from ages 3 to 16 are using the supplies for drawing and writing activities guided by social workers and volunteers. UNICEF is providing the remaining quantities to the education authorities to be distributed to the semi-school tents that are being established across Bam.

On the other hand, discussions continue on programme development with Iranian authorities. With the school infrastructure shattered and a third of the teachers killed, many complicated issues are on the table. For example is the timing of the resumption of formal schooling. UNICEF has advocated for a soft re-entry to the structured curriculum-based schooling to ease the experience of children. School authorities have embraced this approach and, in the tents and containers already set up, children are currently engaged in play activities. UNICEF will continue to advocate for the continuation of this approach to include life-skills teaching and activity-based learning before children can transition into normal structured schooling. The psychosocial support to school children and teachers is a large issue that UNICEF is coordinating with the authorities of education and health.

Child Protection

Within days of the earthquake, UNICEF made available for the children of Bam the most essential supplies to safeguard their survival, including 14,000 blankets including 7,600 baby blankets, 1,800 pampers, 10,000 pieces of winter clothing of all sizes, thousands of pairs of boots, and socks and gloves, in addition to tents. UNICEF also provided support to establishing a tracing system for the separated children by supplying essential equipment to the State Welfare Organization engaged in the tracing operation, including digital cameras, scanners and laptops.

UNICEF's contribution in providing support to the psychosocial assistance to the children and their families began before the earthquake through its regular Country Programme. A month prior to the earthquake, UNICEF conducted a training of trainers' workshop on psychosocial intervention in emergencies benefiting 30 mental health experts from various provinces of the country including Kerman. Many of the Iranian mental health experts who rushed to Bam to provide services included the beneficiaries of this training workshop. A plan of action has been drawn up with the government authorities to expand the psychosocial services to cover training of school counsellors and community leaders, as well as mental health experts.

Next one week

As the relief phase comes to an end, UNICEF focuses on working together with the government authorities and local and international NGO partners in transitioning into a rehabilitation phase, while required relief activities still continue. This will require intensive discussions with both entities in programme development and coordination. Action will take place with priority focus on most urgent needs on the ground. This will entail the delivery of 2,000 emergency toilets and 1,000 plastic sheeting, and procurement action on key equipments required in the rehabilitation of the water supply system in the villages surrounding the Bam city.

Detailed plan of distribution will be discussed with the education authorities over some 300 school-in-a-box kits for the tent schools that are being set up to ensure proper monitoring and impact of the supplies to the immediate needs of students and teachers. UNICEF also plans to provide tents to the authorities to support the resumption of school activities.

UNICEF will focus on supporting the establishment of additional play centres where psychosocial intervention can be delivered along with UNICEF recreational kits. Further discussion will map out a strategy to coordinate psychosocial interventions in schools and in other social services outlets.


As part of the UN Consolidated Appeals for the Bam earthquake, UNICEF outlined a funding requirement of US$ 14,340,000. The table below shows overall requirements by sector.


Funds required (US$)
Health and Nutrition
Water and Sanitation
Child Protection

Of the appealed, UNICEF has received funds/pledges of US$ 8,748,500. While UNICEF is grateful to the donors for their generous response to its appeal, it encourages donors to sustain their contributions in order to enable UNICEF to continue to respond to the humanitarian needs of children and women affected by the earthquake.

The table below provides a summary of funds/indications received by donors.


Received (US$)
Pledged (US$)
National Committee
Australian Natcom
Belgium Natcom
Canadian Natcom
French Natcom
German Natcom
Italian Natcom
Japanese Natcom
Korean Natcom
Netherlands Natcom
Spanish Natcom
Swedish Natcom
UK Natcom
Private Sector

In addition to the above, the Government of Norway has made available two warehousing structures (worth US$ 20,580) and is providing camp accommodation for 40 people in Bam, which will not only benefit UNICEF, but as well as other UN agencies. The total value of the latter donation-in-kind is estimated at over US$ 1 million. Also, discussions with ECHO continue for a protection project of €700,000.

Details of the Bam earthquake emergency programme can be obtained from:

Kari Egge
UNICEF Representative
Tel: + 98 21 259 4994
Fax: + 98 21 259 4948

Olivier Degreef
Tel: + 41 22 909 5655
Fax: + 41 22 909 5902

Dan Rohrmann
New York
Tel: + 1 212 326 7009
Fax: + 1 212 326 7165


1As at 16 January, the government raised the death toll to 41,000 from the previous 30,000.

2 The estimated number of orphans still fluctuates. The number of orphaned children who have lost both parents has been quoted as high as 2,500 by

some authorities on the ground.