Aid Workers Arrive in Bam as Quake Death Toll Rises; WHO Calls for More Help

December 31, 2003

Aid workers from more than 40 countries, including a team of 80 from the U.S., are trying to cope with the devastation wrought by the earthquake that hit the eastern Iranian city of Bam last Friday morning. Reports now indicate that the death toll could exceed 50,000.

The World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that “at least 20,000 people have been killed as a result of the Bam earthquake. Approximately 50,000 are injured, and 11,000 of these people have been admitted to hospitals. In total, the earthquake destroyed the homes of an estimated 70,000 people.”

The U.S. aid workers are the first official representatives to enter Iran since the U.S. severed diplomatic ties with the clerical regime in 1979, following the invasion of the U.S. Embassy, and the taking of a number of Americans as hostages.

According to a BBC report Iran’s President Mohammed Khatami welcomed the US participation, but stressed that it did not change relations between the two countries. The 80-strong US team has started setting up a field hospital – the first to operate since Bam’s own two hospitals were flattened in the earthquake. USAid spokesman Dewy Perks told the BBC it was an honor to be helping the people of Iran on behalf of the US Government. It was “not about politics, it’s about humanitarian relief”.

A BBC reporter on the scene said that the figure of 50,000 dead was certainly plausible, given the extent of the destruction. The quake destroyed 90 percent of the houses in Bam and completely leveled many other villages in the region. It is the most destructive in terms of loss of life in 13 years. In June 1990 a quake in the northern Iranian province of Gilan killed an estimated 40,000 people

The WHO stressed the “urgent health needs of the tens of thousands of people affected by the recent earthquake in Bam, Iran. The health risks of exposure to cold night temperatures, inadequate access to safe water and sanitation, and insufficient care for people’s injuries are amongst the many serious health concerns.”

“The profound tragedy of thousands of people killed has caused emotional and psychological trauma for the tens of thousands of people who have survived. It is now imperative to ensure their mental and physical well-being to the fullest extent possible during this fragile period”, said WHO’s Director-General LEE Jong-wook.The agency is seeking $3.5 million in immediate emergency aid “for use by the Iranian authorities to purchase supplies, rehabilitate health facilities and provide vital public and community health services.”

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