Mercy Corps Works to Meet the Needs of the Survivors in Bam, Iran

January 7, 2004

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    Mercy Corps' Faramarz Hashtarkhani asks a displaced woman questions as part of a needs assessment in Bam, Iran. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps Photo:

BAM, Iran - At the foot of the once majestic Arg-e-Bam ancient walled-city, there are rows and rows of tents pitched amid mountains of rubble. The massive earthquake destroyed most of the ancient city, as well as 85 percent of the homes in Bam. An estimated 70,000 residents have been left homeless.

Zahra Mohammad Abadi, a 64 year-old widow, is one of the homeless. Now she is living in a tent with her daughter, who is also a widow, and her three grand-daughters.

"My daughter's husband was killed in the quake," says Zahra. "And our home is completely destroyed. We have no where to go and no men left in the family."

Mercy Corps was one of the first international aid organizations to respond to the earthquake. "Because we had active programs and an office four hours from Bam, we were able to get here just six hours after the quake hit," says Susan Romanski, a Mercy Corps global emergency response team member now working in Bam.

Mercy Corps immediately set to work on two major initiatives to assist the survivors of the devastating earthquake. In partnership with Peace Winds Japan, Mercy Corps set-up a tent camp for the displaced people and distributed emergency aid items including heater/cooker stoves, water and blankets. Simultaneously, teams were dispatched to all the neighborhoods to assess the living conditions of the survivors and identify their most urgent needs.

At the base of the ancient walled-city, Mr. Faramarz Hashtarkhani, a Mercy Corps assessment team member, is seated on the ground outside of Zahra's tent. They are discussing her family's condition and their needs - for both the short-term as well as for the massive longer-term reconstruction effort that lay ahead.

"There is definitely a trend in the needs of the people here," says Faramarz. "Almost everyone we have interviewed has had their homes destroyed beyond repair. And many say they want to move to a camp for the displaced. This information confirms that our tent camp is a good use of our resources."

Beyond the immediate needs the 50 families surveyed cited, there are tremendous needs for the longer term that Mercy Corps is identifying and prioritizing. All but one family stated that they have lost their previous income generating activities. Many were date and citrus farmers whose trees were killed during the earthquake. They no longer have seeds and tools to continue the work. The business men lost their offices and shops and do not have any savings to restart their business.

Over 95 health clinics and hospitals were severely damaged, and many of the healthcare workers were killed. All but one of the surveyed families said that they used these healthcare facilities for their medical needs. Now they are left without immediate access to healthcare.

Over half the families surveyed said that they do not expect their children to return to school in the coming weeks. "The majority of the respondents stated that their schools have been destroyed and many teachers killed," says Romanski of Mercy Corps. "The children are not engaged in any activities now, and many families are requesting some sort of activities to help the children 'forget' the disaster."

Zahra highlights this pressing need. "My grand children are really destitute. They need some toys and books to help them return to normal."

Mercy Corps has responded immediately to many of the needs cited by the surveyed families. "A team has been sent to Tehran with money raised from private donations to purchase toys and other items for the children, as well as a long list of items that families have requested to improve their living conditions," says Romanski. "Now we are hard at work planning how we can assist in rebuilding the devastated healthcare system in the area."

The amount of work ahead is tremendous. By focusing on the needs the people of Bam identify, Mercy Corps hopes to make a real difference for both the short-term as well as the long-term.