31 December 2003

U.S. Teams Establish Relief Operations in Iran

More supplies are on the way

By David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- U.S. aircraft have delivered more than 90 metric tons of emergency supplies and 84 disaster relief experts to the earthquake-stricken region of Bam, Iran since humanitarian efforts began December 28, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of Defense report.

The U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) arrived December 29 and established a base of operations December 31. The team has begun assessing shelter, water and sanitation needs.

The team includes medical professionals, a search and rescue team and administrative support members.

A USAID air shipment of an additional 12,500 blankets and enough plastic sheeting to provide shelter to 3,000 families arrived in Iran December 31. The agency plans to send more than 1,100 winterized tents to the area on January 1 and 3.

USAID is also contributing $600,000 to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to assist in the relief operations.

The 6.6-magnitude earthquake, which struck in the early morning hours of December 26, is estimated to have killed anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 people. The city of Bam, now largely in ruins, was home to more than 100,000 residents.

This is not the first time the United States has provided aid to Iran in emergency humanitarian disasters. Iran is located in an active seismic zone and has witnessed numerous devastating earthquakes in recent years.

When an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale struck Qazvin province in July 2002, killing 230 people and leaving 25,000 homeless, USAID sent $400,000 in aid and supplies.

A more devastating series of temblors rocked Ardebil and Khoresan provinces between February and May of 1997. The quakes, measuring from 5.5 to 7.3 on the Richter scale, left an estimated 3,500 people dead and 100,000 homeless. At the time, the United States provided $125,000 in aid.

The most destructive earthquake in recent years occurred in June 1990 when a 7.7-magnitude temblor destroyed villages in a large area of Gilan and Zanjan provinces, killing as many as 40,000 people and leaving half a million homeless. U.S. aid contributions amounted to $800,000 in that disaster.

In these past situations, U.S. assistance has always been channeled through international organizations and third-party handlers.

The current relief effort marks the first instance in which U.S. government personnel have been directly involved in the delivery of aid to Iran since the hostage crisis more than two decades ago.

In a December 29 interview with the Washington Post, Secretary of State Colin Powell called the moves by the Iranian government "encouraging.

State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli elaborated in a December 30 press briefing.

"We offered our assistance. That offer was accepted, and I don't think you can see that as anything but a positive development for the people of Iran."

Ereli went on to add, "it was not a political gesture. It was not motivated by political concerns. It was something that, as President Bush said, represents the humanitarian spirit of the United States."

In a December 30 press briefing, White House Spokesman Trent Duffy said, "The United States' primary focus right now is assisting the Iranian people with what they need. And according to their officials, the things they need most are medicines, medical care, shelter and blankets. And so our assistance is targeted towards those four areas."

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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