Skip to comments.Life in an opium haze for city in terror after forgotten quake
Posted on 07/03/2005 6:00:02 PM PDT by F14 Pilot
Survivors of the disaster in Bam are reluctanct to rebuild their lives
CHILDREN wake at night screaming from dreams and charge around the confines of the prefab container not knowing where they are. By day the family are so insecure that they are afraid to leave the room. They fear returning to a house in case the roof falls in. Anyway, they cannot find reliable workers to rebuild their home because so many are opium addicts.
Whenever we get some labourers round the first thing they ask is, Wheres the nearest dealer and have you got some gas for the pipe? Fatime Tabakulinejad, a mother of six, says.
Her husband, Mustafa, 56, begins to cry. He is blind in one eye, wizened and gaunt, thin grey hair plastered on his scalp. In his hand is a photograph of a man with a full face, thick black hair and a steady gaze.
It was him two years ago. Before the earthquake.
I cant even think about it, he whispers, everywhere is a cemetery here.
Bam was wiped out by an earthquake on December 26, 2003. Though measuring only 6.5 on the Richter scale, its epicentre was the ancient Iranian city. A third of the 100,000 population were killed and nearly 50,000 injured. Almost 5,000 children lost one or both parents. Surrounded by barren desert, the disaster made Bam a crucible of grief and trauma.
Eighteen months later, in spite of a huge international aid effort combined with the work of Iranian authorities, the aftermath has left the city listless amid a bitter harvest of opium addiction and depression, with many survivors preferring to live in prefabricated camps than rebuild their homes.
Opium use was traditionally acceptable in the city, a major route for traders from Afghanistan. Guests were invited to smoke with their hosts after eating, and opium pipes and charcoal were included in the wedding dowries of the wealthy.
The drug fitted in with the laissez-faire attitude produced by the hot climate. Then came the quake, and opium became a necessary anaesthetic for the broken survivors. I had never smoked it before, said Mansur Jorjandeh, 36, who woke in the quake to find himself buried to the neck in rubble, the bodies of his wife and five children trapped beneath him. But now I use it for the pain. What can I say? I lost everything in my life in less than a minute.
One official in Tehran has said that up to 80 per cent of Bams male population are now opium users. And they dont want the methadone offered by clinics. Its acceptable to be an opium addict, an aid worker in Bam said yesterday. Though the Iranian Ministry of Health, backed by Unicef, devoted huge resources to psycho-social programmes designed to alleviate the survivors trauma, their work was blunted by a delay in reconstruction that has left the majority of Bams houses, 85 per cent of which were destroyed, as piles of rubble.
Bam lies on a major fault-line, and rather than simply start rebuilding immediately, the Iranian authorities preferred to prevent a repeat of the disaster by producing a master plan using quake-proof measures. Though work has advanced significantly in the past three months, only 5 per cent of houses had been rebuilt a year after the earthquake.
Many survivors are still too horrified by their memories of being buried beneath rubble to contemplate living in a proper building yet, and the crowded confines of the one-room prefab huts, issued one per family, is having its own impact on the next generation, with children growing up with no concept of privacy.
Even before the earthquake there were many addicts here, Mohammed Musazadh, the director of Behzisti, an Iranian aid organisation in Bam, said. But the drug was done in a private room. Now, in these one-room huts, everyone gets to experience opium and the children watch it being smoked as an acceptable thing.
A huge number of survivors were poor tenants who owned no land. Now a rent-free existence and a narcotic shield against the memories of death and destruction have taken away any inclination to rebuild their lives. Its one of the major problems in Bam now, an Iranian aid worker, who did not want to be named, said. People in Bam are getting used to life in a prefab hut. Come back in five years time and unless the Government has done anything about it they will still be there.
Aid pours into black hole
British Government gave £1.7m emergency aid through United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations
EU gave £5.6m emergency aid. No long-term reconstruction aid programme
World Bank announced £120m reconstruction aid in October 2004
United Nations gave £49,000 aid immediately after earthquake; £72m aid from appeals
International Red Cross gave £23m emergency and reconstruction aid
British Red Cross gave £2.2m emergency and reconstruction aid
The earthquake killed 30,000 and injured 50,000
A woman aged 90 was pulled out alive after spending eight days buried under the rubble
More than 50,000 homes were destroyed
30,000 children were left without access to schools
£5.5m in aid was reported missing by Red Crescent Society in 2004
Gavin Sexton, 36, a Hampshire fireman, was the one British person killed