Measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale, the earthquake that devastated the Iranian city of Bam on 26th December 2003 claimed 26,000* lives, injured 30,000 and left around 75,000 people homeless. Entire families were crushed to death in their beds, and around 80% of the buildings in Bam were badly damaged or reduced to rubble.
Three months after the devastating earthquake that almost halved the city’s population, survivors are trying to piece together their lives. Most still live in tents, on the site where their homes once stood or in camps set up by the government and local and international aid agencies. Although a level of normality has now returned to Bam, rising temperatures are making it increasingly unbearable for people to live in the unventilated tents.
As the heat rapidly increases, reaching up to 55° Celsius in the summer, the government and a number of international aid agencies have started to construct temporary homes on various sites around the city.
Islamic Relief is building 400 semi-permanent homes, which will house around 2000 earthquake survivors. The houses consist of a single room of 20 square metres, providing living space for a family of five, with an additional external toilet, shower, and kitchen block.
The homes are being built in the Sina camp, where families are still living under canvas. IR is coordinating the construction work with the Shura (community elders) of the camp and the Iranian Red Crescent, ensuring the most appropriate materials and designs are used.
CAFOD, a British-based humanitarian organisation, has donated $110,000 towards IR’s $1 million construction project.
With the initial emergency phase now over, many international humanitarian organisations have completed their short-term relief programmes and moved on. A few continue to distribute food and essential items to the earthquake-affected people, who number over 175,000 in total, according to the Iranian Red Crescent.
As the people of Bam try to rebuild their lives, unemployment remains a major problem. Some makeshift grocery shops have sprung up to serve the displaced community but most businesses were also destroyed in the earthquake.
To address this problem, Islamic Relief has been working with local traders to establish a market with 26 tent shops in Bam’s Arg Square. The market will house a variety of businesses including tailors, computer supplies, painters, and even an ice-cream parlour.
As with most humanitarian disasters, three months later Bam now receives relatively little international attention. Islamic Relief is doing all it can to highlight the difficult living conditions of the earthquake survivors and help them rebuild their lives. It is a mammoth task but with small signs of normality already appearing in the city, it is certainly not an impossible one.
* Latest revised death toll from Iran . The previous official estimate of 43,000 dead was apparently due to the double counting of bodies during the chaos caused by the disaster