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Bam - Seismic earthquake, Political aftershocks


It is difficult to comprehend a tragedy the size of the earthquake in Bam. Over 30,000, perhaps 50,000 are dead. Compare this to the 3,000 dead of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the USA, and you get some idea. The tragedy is amplified by the fact that emergency services in Iran are not nearly as well developed as they are in the West. Ambulances, emergency care units and hospitals are in short supply. Organizing emergency shelters for the tens of thousands of homeless and hungry people is going to take time.

It is difficult to quantify earthquake force in an objective and meaningful way. Earthquakes differ in scope, diffuseness of focus, depth, and proximity to population centers, so it is very difficult to compare the effects of earthquakes in different places. However, it is a safe bet that a major of cause of casualties in earthquakes is poverty and poor planning. The 1994 earthquake in Northridge California caused 34 deaths; the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco causes about 60 deaths; the 1995 Kobe Japan earthquake killed about 5,500. In contrast, a 1970 earthquake in Peru killed about 25,000; in 1978, an earthquake in Tabas, Iran killed about 25,000; the 1990 earthquake in Manjil, Iran, killed about 50,000; the earthquakes in northern Turkey in 1999 killed about 20,000 and the Bam quake has killed perhaps 50,000 out of a population of about 150,000. There is no doubt that this large death toll is due to poor planning, substandard construction and lack of investment in emergency services and infrastructure. There were only 250 hospital beds and 31 doctors for the entire area of Bam. Despite warnings from Iranian seismologists, even vital buildings such as hospitals were not built to be earthquake proof.

The political aftershocks of the earthquake may be equally injurious. With over 30,000 people dead, probably 50,000, it is hardly worth mentioning that, as may be expected, Iran announced that it would accept aid from every country in the world except "the Zionist regime." This sort of racism, reminiscent of Catherine the Great's announcement that Russia would invite everyone to help in its development except the Jews. However, for the Iranian regimes it is par for the course. Priorities must be kept straight. Hating the Jews comes before saving earthquake victims. Fariba Hemati told the Guardian
what she thought of official efforts, "Our government is only preoccupied with slogans: 'Death to
America', 'Death to Israel', 'Death to this and that'. We have had three major earthquakes in the
past three decades. Thousands of people have died but nothing has been done. Why?"

The xenophobia runs much deeper than the business-as-usual rebuff to Israel. Those who had hoped the winds of reform were blowing stronger in Iran are probably going to be disappointed. According to Amir Taheri, Iranians may well blame the quake on the relatively liberal reformist regime of President Khatami, and turn to hardline candidates. Though it accepted aid from the US, Iran rebuffed further US offers of more aid and diplomatic negotiations. While the rebuff to the "Zionist Regime" reflects attitudes that everyone takes for granted, the rebuff of the US may indicate that in the battle between reformers, generally open to rapprochement with the west, and hardliners who give the USA as "the Great Satan," the earthquake has forced a significant decision, and the results are not good for reform.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 2 comments

Ami, your analysis shouldn't rest so heavily on Amir Taheri. But if a man-made disaster like this hit my country, I'd want to "throw the bums out," too. The main questions are where that energy will actually wind up being channeled, and whether it will make a difference in the end.

Posted by Josh @ 01/05/2004 07:16 AM CST

The iranian government is right.
Not only that they should not engage us , the jews , in aid to
the earthquake victims , they should inform the world that we , the jews, caused the quake in the first place.
That way , public anger would be directed in the proper direction.
I expect them to at least accept
this above jewish advice.
A jewish Israeli

Posted by Shalom Pront @ 01/16/2004 11:49 PM CST

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