Two powerful and destructive earthquakes struck back-to-back in North Western Iran on Saturday. The towns of Ahar and Varzaghan were hit the hardest, but the surrounding villages were also affected. Three days later, rescue missions have come to a halt and the dead and injured have been counted. All told, 133 villages were damaged, resulting in the loss of 306 lives and leaving more than 2000 Iranians injured. The region is now ‘home’ to almost 50 000 homeless or displaced people. The criticism surfacing, though, is of the Iranian government relief programs, and especially, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad , who took an overseas trip in the wake of this disaster.
The earthquakes, hitting 11 minutes apart, were ranked at 6.4 and 6.3 magnitude, respectively, by the US Geological Survey. The government search operations were brought to an end only 24 hours after the earthquakes took place. Two days after the quake, some villages had still not been reached by relief agencies, and even now, drinking water and electricity are not available in some of the affected areas. Local reporting presents the massive need for more relief and more attention from the government.
Parliamentarians are complaining of a lack of tents, but other needs are very evident as well. Journalist Solmaz Ekdar, from some of the surrounding villages, has been reporting the more dire needs. Medicine, food, water, blankets and blood were among his list. He said blood, is especially important during Ramadan, as Iran is often short on blood supply during this time of fasting.
President Ahmadinejad has been receiving most of the high-profile criticism. He chose to attend the assembly of The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation being held in Saudi Arabia, even after learning of the tragedy. Moreover, his office did not issue any statement of condolence to the loved ones of the lost or a statement supporting the other affected victims.
It was announced, however, that Iran will open its boarders to accept international aid, despite refusing it earlier. Several nations, including Turkey and Russia have already agreed to send assistance.
The Iranian region bordering Armenia and Azerbaijan is subject to significant tectonic activity resulting in numerous earthquakes. Since 2002, there have been 10 earthquakes in the area with a magnitude measured over 6.0.