07 January 2004

U.S. Charities Supplement U.S. Official Relief for Iranian Earthquake

U.S. has history in humanitarian aid to Iran

By Armond Cagler
Washington File Special Correspondent

Washington -- Private U.S. charities are raising huge amounts of money and supplies for the victims of the earthquake that devastated Bam, Iran, in keeping with a tradition of American charitable giving that adds to official U.S. government relief assistance.

Following the 6.6-magnitude quake flattened the ancient city of Bam December 26, the U.S. government shipped more than 81,000 metric tons of supplies, such as medical equipment, tents, heaters, potable water and rescue teams to help the tens of thousands of people left injured and homeless by the quake.

A partial survey of U.S. private aid contributions indicates that so far more than 38 tons of supplies have been shipped to Bam earthquake victims and more than $750,000 have been collected for the purpose of purchasing relief supplies locally and in other locations. U.S. official disaster relief is not expected to extend beyond the immediate response, but private charities are planning to continue their appeals, which could result in private relief aid exceeding the amount given by the U.S. government.

Various organizations say they expect to raise well over $1 million for the Bam victims during the next few weeks.

AmeriCares, based in Connecticut, was the first disaster relief organization to take action to help the Bam victims, airlifting 35 tons of supplies to southeastern Iran within days after the quake. The supplies, estimated to be worth $3 million, contained urgently needed items such as antibiotics, IV sets, and four World Health Organization (WHO) health kits, each with a capability of providing basic medicine and provisions for 30,000 people for one month.

"The U.S. public has a tradition of sending assistance to people in need around the globe," said Marven Moss, a manager of publications at AmeriCares, which receives charitable donations from individual American citizens and from U.S. corporations, mainly medical manufacturers. Since its founding in 1982, AmeriCares has provided an estimated $3.4 billion of aid in over 137 countries.

Ted Hart, president and CEO of the ePhilanthropy Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based educational organization dedicated to fostering the use of the Internet for philanthropic purposes, estimates total charitable donations by American citizens in 2003 reached $275 billion, up from $241 billion in 2002.

"Americans give generously at home and abroad because we firmly believe that no matter how much our personal problems hurt us, we still see the pain and suffering of others," said Hart. "Being an optimistic nation, with roots that extend around the world, we believe our philanthropy can and will make a difference."

California-based Direct Relief International, one of the largest humanitarian assistance organizations in the United States, dispatched an air shipment of 3.5 tons of supplies, worth about $330,000 to Bam January 2. Working in conjunction with the U.S. corporations Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Johnson and Johnson, the relief group sent surgical equipment, antibiotics, orthopedic immobilizers, and two disaster relief modules, each containing splints, gauze, casting materials, and other items.

Mercy Corps, based in Oregon, has raised a total of $306,000 for the victims through on-line credit-card donations. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) in Washington, D.C., whose efforts contributed to President Bush's recent decision to temporarily lift economic sanctions against Iran, has raised more than $90,000. The American Red Cross is securing contributions from ordinary Americans as well as from U.S. companies. For example, the telecommunications giant, Verizon, recently donated $25,000 for the Red Cross' International Response Fund.

Two Iranian-American organizations, the Maryland-based Children of Persia (COP) and Earthquake Relief Funds for Orphans (ERFO), a Massachusetts organization, have been actively fundraising and collecting children's winter clothing and blankets. According to Dr. Mohammad Farivar, the president of ERFO, his organization is working to raise $1 million for the more than 1,500 orphans in devastated Kerman province. His wife has traveled to Bam to assist in the relief operations.

"Now that the U.S. has lifted the sanctions, we are gathering momentum and planning our fundraising activities for the next two to four weeks," Farivar said, who earned his medical degree at Teheran University in 1970 and is now an American citizen and professor at Harvard University and Boston University.

Before the Bam disaster struck, the United States had a history of sending relief aid to Iran and other Muslim countries following disasters.

When a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck northern Iran's Qazvin province in 2002, the United States responded with an estimated $400,000 in relief funds and equipment that was distributed through the United Nations' children's agency, UNICEF. Relief International, a separate organization from Direct Relief International, responded with aid in reconstruction efforts, along with other groups across the United States.

In 1997, when a 7.1-magnitude quake killed more than 2,000 people in Iran's Khorasan and Ardebil provinces, the U.S. government committed $125,000 through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. U.S. private-sector aid in that quake was strong as well. The Iranian-American Medical Association donated $18,000. The Iranian-American Society of New York donated $15,000. Ordinary Americans donated $40,000 to certain Iranian-American charity groups.

After the catastrophic earthquake of 1990 in the regions of Gilan and Zanjan that killed about 35,000 Iranians, the U.S. government donated $800,000 worth of supplies. The private Earthquake Relief Funds for Orphans (ERFO) responded with approximately $250,000 in donations for 174 Iranian orphans.

Recent American humanitarian involvement has been evident in other countries as well. In 1998, when a flood devastated Bangladesh, the flood-prone Muslim nation of 134 million people, the United States gave an estimated $3 million in supplies, such as equipment for flood forecasting and infrastructure upgrades.

When a flood affected Jakarta, Indonesia in 2002, the world's most populous Muslim country, the U.S. government and American charities provided emergency aid that benefited approximately 50,000 victims. After floods nearly submerged the northeastern Sudanese city of Kassala in 2003, the U.S. government donated health services, water sanitation supplies, and other equipment that benefited 100,000 people.

Similarly, official and private U.S. relief aid worth millions of dollars helped hundreds of thousands of victims when earthquakes struck Algeria in 2003 and Turkey in 1999.

"Tragedies hurt the collective human psyche and conscious," said Farivar. "They surpass borders, race, religion, and political differences."

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

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