Bam quake camp established - but few takers

At least thirty-eight families have arrived in the first proper camp for homeless earthquake victims in the southeastern Iranian city of Bam. The facility is managed by Iranian authorities and was established by Swiss Disaster relief and World Vision, including help from several other NGOs. The camp was set up after an earthquake killed an estimated 32,000 people and left around 100,000 people homeless and destitute in Bam and surrounding villages on 26 December.

Each family is given a tent which can accommodate up to six people and which measures sixteen square metres. Two tents can be laced together for larger families and there is room for up to two thousand people in the camp.

The new residents will receive one hot meal a day, which will be provided by the US NGO Alabama Disaster Relief. A team of twenty aid workers will be preparing and cooking food in a mobile kitchen. They can provide up to five thousand meals every twenty-four hours. “We’re hoping that people will find out there’s food and they’ll want to come here,” team leader Larry Murphy told IRIN.

The Bureau of Alien and Foreign Immigrant Affairs (BAFIA), is managing the camp and dealing with administrative issues. “We’re hoping that within the next few days the camp will be filled,” Mohammad Ali Salehi, deputy of BAFIA, told IRIN. But attracting survivors to the tents has proved difficult, as people are reluctant to leave their former homes, fearing looting. Many residents have erected makeshift shelters near where they lived and continue to dig in what remains of their houses in search of corpses and possessions. An assessment carried out by Mercy Corps found that half of all survivors were unwilling to settle in camps.

Many of the survivors are farmers, dependent on cultivating date and orange trees in small gardens behind their properties. Where these gardens still exist, survivors have returned to tending their land, and are worried they will lose their livelihoods if they move to a camp. “One reason that people don’t want to leave their homes is that their loved ones might still be buried there and they haven’t had the chance to mourn,” Waseem Yaqub, country manager of Islamic Relief Worldwide, told IRIN.

But the Iranian Interior Minister, Abdolvahed Mousavi-Lari, is hopeful that the camp will attract more people soon. “If all provisions are provided here and people feel safe and living conditions are good then those who are most in need will come first. We had 38 families today and tomorrow more will come,” he said.

Ahmad Koudouri was one of the first survivors to arrive at the camp. He shares a tent with his wife and three-year-old daughter. The surviving members of his extended family have also moved into tents, next door to his. “We had no other choice but to come here. We weren’t receiving blankets and tents by our old home because we don’t live on a main road - the trucks don’t come to the back streets,” he told IRIN. “If they rebuild Bam quickly then we’ll stay, but we can’t stay in the tents past new year [March] because it gets so hot then,” he added.

Mercy Corps, working with the international NGO Peace Winds of Japan, provided tents for the camp and are distributing essential equipment such as heaters. They have also assisted BAFIA in the construction of the camp, helping with water installation and sanitation. “The next stage is to build brick shower blocks and toilets, with piped water, but the installation of water and latrines takes time,” Pete Sweetham, a Mercy Corps emergency programme officer, told IRIN.

The homeless have been complaining of the lack of latrines - women in particular feel that they have no privacy. The UN On-Site Operations Coordination Centre (OSOC) are concerned about the health implications of the lack of toilet facilities. They say that 10,000 toilets and 1,500 washing facilities are urgently needed.

Construction of toilets has begun and Islamic Relief has been distributing sanitary packs. “Up until yesterday [Sunday], no one was handing out hygiene stuff, such as sanitary towels for the women,” Yaqub said. “The second we bought out soap, people ran back to their tents and started washing their hands,” he added.