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Research covers Iran quake

More than six months after a devastating earthquake struck the ancient Iran city of Bam, residents still need 20,000 homes.

BY SUSAN KIM | BOULDER, Colo. | July 14, 2004


"The U.S. has trade sanctions against Iran, and these prohibit us from publishing co-authored articles in journals."

—Marjorie Greene


More than six months after a devastating earthquake struck the ancient Iran city of Bam, residents still need 20,000 homes.

Representatives and partners of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) shared details of the needs at the 29th Annual Hazards Research and Applications Workshop in Boulder, Colorado.

More than 25,000 people died in the Dec. 26, 2003, quake, and more than 20,000 others were injured. Some 1,200 children were orphaned. Bam lost 8,000 to 10,000 students; 560 teachers; 200 health professionals; its foremost singer; and its mayor, a 29-year-old civil engineer.

Bam, an ancient city located in the middle of desert terrain, had a sophisticated irrigation system that sustained grave damages.

EERI sent two teams to Iran, one that focused on engineering, science and health issues, and another that focused on social impacts.

Both teams are now working with Iranian colleagues to assess lessons learned, said Marjorie Greene of EERI. Some of the joint findings may not be published in the U.S., she explained.

"The U.S. has trade sanctions against Iran, and these prohibit us from publishing co-authored articles in journals. We believe this is a violation of the First Amendment."

Tom Tobin of Tobin & Associates also commented on how the sanctions have affected collaborative efforts with disaster recovery between the U.S. and Iran. "There is to be no import of technology there. But they're looking for cooperation. It is a rich area for inquiry and collaboration. Iranians want to collaborate.

"There is a strong interest in the sociological community in developing a better understanding of disasters and an understanding of the economic consequences of disasters."

For Bam, those consequences were grave. "It was neighborhood after neighborhood of total collapse," recalled Farzad Naeim of John A. Martin & Associates. "Everything was shut down after the earthquake."

The Bam earthquake marked the first time EERI used satellite imagery to help with reconnaissance in the field.

"It's not just the military with an eye in the sky," said Beverley Adams of ImageCat, Inc., who helped provide technology that could pick up objects as small as 60 centimeters. "We were able to produce a citywide damage map in a couple of days."

And what they found was profound devastation. "All the schools in Bam - 296 of them - were destroyed," said Tobin. "Iran's first university was destroyed. All businesses were destroyed. No family was left unscathed."

Five months after the quake people were still living in tent cities, he said. "The living conditions were difficult. Families had extended numbers of tents connected together.

"And how do we deliver services when the infrastructure has been destroyed?"

When people from outlying villages began to descend on the city, some residents resented it, he added. "They thought, 'these are outsiders, these are intruders. They've come for handouts.' But they were victims, and they had to come there."

Bam was a sophisticated, middleclass part of the world, Tobin said, but the city still faced serious pre-quake challenges. "Bam had a 20 percent unemployment rate before the earthquake," Tobin said. The city was also just coming off a six-year drought.

Iran's incarceration rate also played into post-quake challenges, said Tobin. "One million people are incarcerated across Iran because of drug-related offenses. Twenty percent of males have a drug problem. It's an ongoing problem."

Church World Service and its partners continue to respond to needs in Bam as well.

Residents report that a regular stream of survivors visits the Beheshteh Zahra cemetery where they mourn the loss of loved ones.

Makeshift shops selling food, fruit and clothes have been set up in tents amid yet-to-be-cleared debris.

Water purity is still a major issue in Bam. The Environmental Health Department (EHD), which monitors the water for bacterial contamination, has reported that much of the drinking water is still not safe.

Finally, Bam is still suffering from a drought - rainfall has been at its lowest for the last 30 years.


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