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Iran: Relief Worker Says Situation In Bam Is 'Appalling'

Prague, 8 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Two weeks after an earthquake destroyed Iran's southeastern city of Bam, killing at least 30,000 people, relief workers face the massive task of housing survivors in tent encampments until the city can be rebuilt. Brendan Paddy, a spokesman for the international charity Save the Children, is in Bam helping to distribute blankets and stoves to homeless residents and to provide for needy children. Paddy spoke today from Bam with RFE/RL. The interview coincides with an expected appeal from the UN today to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to help with the reconstruction of the city.

RFE/RL: What does Bam look like today?

PADDY: The situation in Bam is an appalling one. When you first arrive, the city appears almost completely destroyed, and on closer inspection that is almost exactly what has happened. The few buildings left standing are so badly damaged that they will have to be destroyed, and rebuilding here will happen almost completely from scratch.

RFE/RL: Some 100,000 people in the greater Bam area are reported to be homeless. What is their situation now?

PADDY: People are still living largely in the open. Some of them do have tents, but many of them are sharing -- more than one family crammed into a single tent. And if you go into the back streets, you find many people in improvised shelters.

RFE/RL: Are any people still trying to live within the ruins of their homes?

PADDY: Most people move out of anything that is left standing of their damaged homes, but in many cases they are living in the compounds of those ruins. People have, to date, been reluctant to move away from those areas, although we are starting to hear in the last 24 hours that people are beginning to move into the camps that have been created around the edge of the city, where it is easier, obviously, for the government and for aid agencies to provide the kinds of services that they require."

RFE/RL: We have heard reports of large numbers of children separated from their families in this tragedy. What is their situation?

PADDY: What we have seen is large numbers of children who are separated from their families at this point. We have seen probably more than 10,000 children removed from Bam to be taken for medical treatment in various parts of the country. We've seen 1,800 children removed from Bam to be taken to the regional capital of Kerman to stay in orphanages, although not all those children have been orphaned. Many of them will still have extended family and in some cases even parents alive.

RFE/RL: Are there many children still missing or unaccounted for?

PADDY: The number of children the local authorities here in Bam say they cannot account for is some 6,000 children. The suspicion is that many of those children will be staying with neighbors or friends of family or extended family. Although, I have to say, many of them unfortunately, no doubt, will be unaccounted for and [are] under the rubble.

RFE/RL: What does the future hold for Bam?

PADDY: The government has announced the very firm intention to rebuild Bam. However, there will obviously be a period during which people will have to have temporary accommodation. It seems likely -- at least in the first instance -- that they will be in winter tents, either in the ruins of their homes or in the camps on the edge of the city that are being established and filled as we speak.

RFE/RL: How long will people have to live in these temporary accommodations?

PADDY: The rebuilding process will take -- at minimum -- months to get significantly under way, I should expect. They probably will be forced to bulldoze the remains of the buildings that are still standing and flatten the ruins that are covering the city at present. That will be a process that will obviously be traumatic in the cases of people who have not been able to recover the bodies of loved ones. But, unfortunately, if they are intending to rebuild, they really will have no alternative."

RFE/RL: Are there any signs of normal life returning to Bam now, two weeks after the earthquake struck?

PADDY: We are beginning to see the first signs in Bam of some renewed business activity. We are seeing more traffic on the street. We have fortunately seen some schools reopen, which is perhaps the best possible way to provide children with a degree of normality, security, and stability. These small signs of a return to some kind of structure are incredibly important for people who have really been left distraught by their experiences.