Tuesday, April 04, 2006

IRAN: Concern over quake-affected children in Lorestan

There is growing concern over the welfare of tens of thousands of children affected by a series of quakes in western Iran last week, which killed at least 66 people and injured over 1,000 more.

"Preliminary indications suggest that 36,000 school-age children were affected in the two districts of Douroud and Boroujerd," Country Representative for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Christian Salazar Volkmann, told IRIN on Tuesday from the badly affected town of Boroujerd in Lorestan province.

"Fifty percent of the schools in Douroud and 25 percent in Boroujerd - a total of 130 schools - were destroyed, with others receiving light to moderate damage," Volkmann explained. "Schools that should have started today have not." READ MORE

Despite poor weather conditions, people were still encamped outside in school yards following reoccurring aftershocks - a total of 94 since Friday - he said, underscoring his concern over the psychological impact this was having on children.

"We would like to restore a little degree of normalcy," the UNICEF country representative said. "Over the next few days, we are hoping to help the authorities here to restart some form of schooling and some kind of kindergarten as quickly as possible."

On Monday, UNICEF dispatched 10,000 blankets and 300 tents to Lorestan province. In collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN children's agency will also send a team of experts to the area on Wednesday to assess the educational and psychological needs of children. Based on that assessment, further resources would be mobilised to support the authorities with temporary educational facilities, supplies and toys.

According to the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS), at least 66 people have been confirmed dead and 1,246 injured after a series of moderate sized tremors occurred around the industrial towns of Doroud and Boroujerd on Thursday and Friday in Lorestan, measuring up to 6 on the Richter scale.

"Some 150,000 people, or approximately 30,000 families, were affected by this quake," Mansooreh Bagheri, IRCS Programme Coordinator for International Cooperation told IRIN from Tehran. "Of the 330 villages affected, 47 were badly damaged".

IRCS, which had relief teams on the ground shortly after the onset of the disaster, has already distributed tents, blankets, nylon sheeting, lanterns, canned goods and other basic living items to those affected.

"The situation is under control. There is no need for international assistance," Bagheri confirmed. "Our distribution efforts are ongoing and the search and rescue part of the operation is now over."

ICRS was now in the process of establishing mobile showers and latrines in affected communities, she said, adding some school-age children were returning to schools in makeshift classes now being erected in tents.

Earthquakes are not unusual in Iran, which sits on some of the most active seismic fault lines in the world. On 26 December 2003, a devastating earthquake levelled the ancient city of Bam in southeastern Kerman province, killing over 43,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.