United Nations officials in Tehran on Wednesday confirmed to IRIN that an emergency team would travel to northeastern Iran to conduct an assessment mission in the wake of one of the worst floods to hit the area in years. The team will analyse the damage done by flash floods that struck the northeast last weekend, leaving over 200 dead and hundreds more missing, and their humanitarian consequences.
“We are a sending a team on Thursday to determine the needs of flood victims and how the UN can be of assistance,” UN programme officer for disaster and environment, Hossain Jafari, said. The team will focus on Golestan province, the worst affected, he said.
The move follows a statement of condolence by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan earlier this week that the UN stood ready to help Tehran in its relief and rehabilitation efforts.
Annan said he was “deeply saddened” to learn of the loss of life and devastation caused by the floods, and extended his deepest condolences to the people and government of Iran.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the torrential rains which started on Friday caused flooding in Golestan and Khorasan, and the central province of Semnan. The cities of Kalaleh and Minoodasht, as well as 15 villages nearby, were worst affected. OCHA tentatively estimated that 15,000 hectares of agricultural fields had been washed away, resulting in over US $6.2 million worth of damage.
With the death toll from the flooding set to increase, Tehran is busy mobilising resources, including the Iranian Red Crescent and the military to assist those affected.
Jafari said hundreds were still missing and rescue efforts had intensified, with authorities using sniffer dogs to search for bodies. Rescue teams had already used helicopters to relocate some 10,000 inhabitants to safety. The authorities were now working around the clock to restore roads and electricity to the area. Bridges and roads were swept away on Saturday and Sunday, and it is expected to be months before the total cost of destruction is known.
Ironically, drought conditions in the country have made such flooding more likely, according to relief agencies. According to OCHA, most provinces in Iran, including those affected by the floods, have been suffering from a severe three-year drought. As the drought and degradation of natural vegetation has continued to expose the soil, flash floods threaten to become an increasing problem. In July, floods affecting north-western provinces of Iran, killed 30 people.
“There hasn’t been enough rain for the last three years, resulting in the degradation of natural vegetation,” Jafari said. “The capacity of the soil to absorb water as a result of the drought has been reduced significantly, making floods inevitable during torrential rains.”
Meanwhile, the Iranian Red Crescent has appealed for financial and material help for the flood victims, with agency chief Mohammad Nurbala saying his organisation was actively participating in rescue operations but warning of a lack of food, tents and medication.