With its epicenter just ten miles away, a large earthquake shook the city of Sarpol-e Zahab in Iran’s Kermanshah province at 8:00 pm local time on Sunday, November 25. The quake reached a 6.3 magnitude on the Richter scale, and tremors were felt as far away as Baghdad.
A Rapid Response
Leading the earthquake response in Kermanshah is the Iranian Red Crescent Society (ICRS), an affiliate of the Red Cross. According to the IRCS, only 36 of the 729 people injured required hospital care. The majority of injuries were caused by the panicked behavior of residents as they fled to safety, rather than damage from the tremors themselves. Fear of aftershocks pushed many citizens to spend a fearful night outdoors. Fortunately, it appears there has been no loss of life; those who have been hospitalized are expected to make full recoveries.
The IRCS was quick on the scene, distributing tents and food rations to the 527 affected households in the Sarpol-e Zahab and the surrounding villages. In short order, Red Crescent members had canvased 150 villages, assessing the damages and providing relief. Rescue, medical, shelter and debris-removal personnel are currently on site in affected areas. Relief helicopters were also on standby, although they are less likely to be needed as more time passes.
The following day, President Rouhani spoke passionately on state media, ordering officials to “do whatever is necessary to provide aid for the victims.” Unfortunately, after food and medicine have been provided, it is unclear how much further the earthquake response in Kermanshah will go. The province is still a state of disrepair after a disastrous 7.3 magnitude quake struck the area in 2017. The resulting damage of this quake ruined tens of thousands of homes, killing more than 600 people.
Recovery from the most recent earthquake has been an arduous process. Reconstruction efforts by the Islamic Revolution Housing Foundation have reportedly passed their halfway mark. As of March 2018, 31,000 homes had been rebuilt from a total of 59,000 that were rendered uninhabitable the year before. This progress has been almost exclusive to rural areas, where open space makes building easier. The more daunting task of urban restoration has hardly begun. It is estimated that the Sarpol-e Zahab will not return to normal until sometime between March 2019 and March 2020.
Frustration is growing as people wait to return home. For the past year, and for what may likely be the next two years, urban dwellers have lived out of the tents or Conex shelters with which they were provided. In an interview with Kurdistan 24, a Sarpol-e Zahab camp resident was outraged that “the government [had]not reimbursed [them]or given [them]loans necessary” to make repairs. Surviving with improvised housing can be very problematic. One woman described it as “living in the mud with very little space,” explaining that shelter rooves failed to keep out precipitation during the rainy winter months.
However, for those most recently displaced, Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri’s trip to the disaster zone shortly after the event may have brought some sense of hope. While visiting, Mr. Jahangiri vowed for a stronger earthquake response in Kermanshah, promising that the affected areas would be rebuilt within the next two months, before the cold winter. Although promises of resources from the second and third highest members of the government are subject to debate, they bring hope to the region.
– John Glade