Kermanshah: Autopsy of an Earthquake

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Autopsy of an Earthquake in Kermanshah: The Iranian theocracy politicised the misery in no time. Homes, workshops, small businesses and rural sheds were destroyed in one of the poorest of Iranian provinces: misery loves company.

Kermanshah: Autopsy of an Earthquake

Worse than a natural disaster is the politicising of the disaster. The Theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran politicised the earthquake in the western part of Iran, immediately after the large quake had hit the area.

The quake happened in the evening of November the 12th. As the scale of the natural disaster was transmitted to Tehran, the IRGC was immediately mobilised, not so much to help the victims as it was afterwards declared by the officials, but to prevent possible riots among the population. A group of clerics from the hard core of the Velayat-e Faqih, headed by Hojat-Islam Abdul Hussein Mo’ezzi, was also promptly dispatched to Kermanshah in a cargo plane. He is the representative of the Leader in the Red Crescent and much experienced in political Islam ideology, none in aid relief coordination.

An Unruly Province

Kermanshah is a geographical crossroad. The inhabitants are Kurds and a mix of people from other provinces with close ties between them. Tehran worries about the constant smell of riot in the province and justifiably so.
Homes, workshops, small businesses and rural sheds were destroyed in the wake of an earthquake with magnitude of 7.3, in one of the poorest of Iranian provinces: misery loves company.

Kermanshah earthquake

A destroyed home: Kermanshah is not Tehran. The numbers of the young and unemployed are many times those of the national rates.

After the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, many villages and hamlets were in ruins. However, the government did very little, short of nothing, in the coming decades to help with improving the local conditions and development. People did what they could to earn a living. As the embargos and sanctions were imposed on Iran by the international community, along the western borders toward northern Iraq and Turkey, people found jobs as conveyors, koolbaran, for the smugglers’ rings.
They carried consumer goods, refined petrol and alcoholic beverages, on their back or with horses, mules, or vans. For many years, an understanding based on baksheesh was reached between the leaders of koolbaran and IRGC officers (the receiving end) to facilitate the smuggling of goods for the Tehran market.
The conveyors earned just about enough money to feed their families.

The presidents changed, but the economic conditions of the province barely improved. As the numbers of the young and unemployed soared, to many times those of the national rates, the mistrust in the government and the bitterness grew.

The political protocol for a newly elected president requires a visit to the many provinces after the elections.
None of them was welcomed in Kermanshah. Beyond the waving flags and smiling faces of people around them – photographed for the occasion – boos and dung throwing accompanied the presidential caravans. Khatami, Ahmadinejad and Rouhani each had experienced it.
However, in the best histrionic style of the Iranian government, there are lots of words, void promises and cooing. When the words are short of effective, sneaky methods are used to manipulate and influence the population.

It would have been much profitable to develop the county and reduce the tensions by improving the population’s conditions. However, there is no remedy for the psycho-rigidity of the dogmatists, Islamists, in this context.

The tensions emanate from an overt, but officially unrecognised xenophobia from Tehran toward the Kurds and the regions in which their culture’s is perceptible. In Tehran circles, the men in command firmly believe that if a population is kept poor, censored, and their towns and villages underdeveloped, they can have a strong grip on it. Their inferior logic is shared by many autocrats and their followers in the Middle East, from Ankara to Riyadh.

The Media Hype

However, in the early hours following the disaster the earthquake-stricken people had other things in mind than to care for a political riot.

As the media was filled with reports from the area and the death toll and the number of injured rose, the officialdom cooed to convince the general public that everything was under control and the needs of victims were being fulfilled with due diligence and care.

Hundreds of short articles were written about the progress of help and the re-establishment of infrastructures.
Every official interviewed declared that 90% of his services were functioning only a couple of hours after the quake; no worries, the people have everything they need as is wished by the Supreme Leader.

Kermanshah, children

Brainwashing from cradle in the midst of a disaster: My life for my Leader!

On the international level, the government declined all foreign help. In less than 24 hours, the officials declared that searches for missing persons under the rubble were called off since the situation was fully under control. Was it?

However, the idyllic image depicted by the authorities was far from the field realities.

For a week no one knew what was happening in the remote villages. The media spotlights were focused on the town of Sarpol-e Zahab. There, almost all housing built by the IRGC contractors and blessed by the ex-president Ahmadinejad’s government collapsed, killing most of the people there, as reported by the domestic media and repeated by the international news outlets.

The new public hospital of Sarpol-e Zahab, serving the population of a vast geographic area, crumbled into a heap. By killing a number of the medical staff it added to the plight of the survivors.

The IRGC and the communications services of the Supreme Leader’s office made a grand show of installing military and camp hospitals and the transfer of thousands injured to Tehran for medical attention.
Later, would the victims be presented with a large bill issued by the IRGC offices for the transfer and medical care?

Then the dramatic and commandeered choreography of a visit from the top men of the Iranian political system started. The first to visit was the president Hassan Rouhani. His smiling face as he distributed red roses in cellophane wrapping among cheering masqueraders was not well received. At the time, many victims of the earthquake were facing a severe shortage of drinking water besides looking for shelters to spend the night.

The next visit was by the Leader, the Agha himself. He appeared in Sarpol-e Zahab, with his familiar crew and rostrum: his bodyguards closely surrounding him while he addressed from a high stand the bunch of male bassijis in civilian dress. The uniformed IRGC personnel and many clerics completed the panorama.

In a far corner, a group of women wearing back chador were squeezed together, well separated from the males. The staged set highlighted once more that the Islamic dogma in segregating male and female is far above the need of common help to alleviate the consequences of a natural disaster.

Kermanshah, Earthquake, Khamenei visit.

My life for my Leader! The facts of Khamenei’s visit might well be forgotten, but there are stupid asses and sycophants who will not let us forget it.

Then came Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Parliament, the man to be seen every day and his opinion heard on every issue.
Two weeks after the disaster, the officialdom visits from Tehran were still the favoured activity of the government. Ministers and junior ministers were photographed giving a speech and distributing packed meals, before leaving for the capital within hours.
For two weeks, both towns, Kermanshah and Sarpol-e Zahab, were as busy as a hive. Much time was wasted by the local authorities in receiving the visits instead of focusing on the emergencies needing immediate attention.
Then the curtain fell.

In the mess created by the IRGC and governmental bodies, the army personnel and officers were the exception. Photographs and praise of them in published reports were nowhere to be seen. But they worked hard to help the survivors. Their compassion and efficiency were more than welcome among the survivors.

Citizens’ Mobilisation

However, amid the official propaganda, which expressed a profusion of compassion and self-congratulations among officials, the visiting journalists, between lines and carefully, pointed to the contradictory declarations and gross mismanagement regarding the first-aid coordination and distribution.
Notwithstanding, phones conveyed the bitter realities of the disaster to the close, extend families and friends of Kermanshahis living elsewhere in Iran.
The widespread Tam Tam cries for help were much more powerful that the regime’s media hype. The citizens responded generously. Swiftly and from all over the country, lorries and vans filled with bottled water, food and blankets hit the road to the area.
Many arrived safely. Unfortunately, a few vanished before reaching the destination and their goods stolen.

The shipments that made it to the towns faced the authorities’ mismanagement and improvisations. To distribute the aid arriving from outside areas, it was necessary to properly stock and then optimise the process.
The responsibility of any government is to coordinate relief work, and ensure its efficient distribution, thus minimising waste, and to permit that even the smallest aid reaches those who badly need it. This could only be achieved by trained staff. In this, the sycophantic pen-pushers in charge of public services failed.

Who could have overseen the disaster relief, except the governor, Ostandar, of the Kermanshah Province? In the absence of any other body, he should have been the one in charge of coordinating the relief aid.

The governor Hooshang Bazvand was a fading figure in the background of the visiting dignitaries. He sheepishly walked in their wake.
Presently, as the visits from the ministers slow down, he is paying tributes to the hard work of the volunteers in the local branches of the Red Crescent and sitting in the front row of memorial services, next to the IRGC commanders and the clerics.
He has also the frustrating task of making sense of the contradictory signals from Tehran and the promises of financial aid; the figures and the conditions of granting the relief are dependent on who says what in Tehran.

Two Weeks Later

A couple of days after the quake, the Interior Minister – in Tehran – declared 95% of water and electricity issues and cuts in the networks were solved. There was no corroboration of this claim from the survivors.

As we write, two weeks following the quake, verified information gathered from the locals and photographs from the ruined area tell another story: the impossibility of such a miracle in the ruins of water pipes.
Black nights still shroud the street campfires, around which families are gathered.
Since the minister’s claim, it has become evident, according to published governmental sources, that 70% of power transformers are badly damaged and need replacement.

Schools are open and students are studying, was reported by one civil servant. Only no one has seen an erect school; benches are buried under rubble and teachers mourn their dead, care for their injured relatives, and worry about food and shelter, as everybody else does.

The food distribution has followed chaotic patterns and in some areas might makes right. Some received too much, some others had to make do with crumbs, some had nothing. Overall, far too much food was spoiled since there no scheme existed to properly stock and save, or to swiftly supply the villages far from Kermanshah town or Sarpol-e Zahab.
There should have been a body well informed and pragmatic enough to oversee the aid. There was none.

Presently, there are reports of many villages and hamlets being between 50% and 100% destroyed. As the roads blocked in the aftermath of the earthquake are reopened, all the official figures on the number of dead, injured and homeless can easily be multiplied by three or four.

When one’s home is destroyed, tents are essential. However, makeshift tents are in addition to those provided by the Red Crescent. In some villages, makeshift tents, made of poles and plastic sheets, are the only roofs people have for now. The head of the Red Crescent in the first paragraph of a report boasted about providing more than the necessary number of tents. In the last paragraph of his interview, he admitted that despite 30,000 tents being distributed, perhaps a further 10,000 or more were necessary.

The first rain after the quake transformed the lands on which the tents were erected into mud, and people were left floundering in filthy waters. A spell of cold weather followed. To shelter families, even in the short term, soaked tents in the cold were not an option any more. A few tents were set alight for warmth due to makeshift hearth.

Kermanshah, EarthquakeFrom other provinces Conex boxes were privately collected and donated. In no time, there was a market created for them by unscrupulous middlemen, and the prices soared. The families that could afford them settled in containers.

Despite the relief they bring, their placement raises important questions.
Should they be placed on one’s property, over the rubble and ruins? Or be placed haphazardly between the heaps of rubbish and rubble?
Where do the sufficient manpower and vehicles come from to clear the waste and prepare the land before snow? How can water, heat, electricity, and sanitation be provided? Will the containers and the shanties in between be the future of the area?

To the rubble and heaps of waste from unusable family furniture and goods, mountains of rubbish from water bottles, wrappers and discarded clothing, all from the donations, are added. Before the quake, the underdeveloped municipality infrastructures had no solution for the mounting waste and sewage broth.
Presently, the buildings have been seriously damaged in the quake and the services have stopped. Today, the amount of rubbish grows exponentially and the health hazards from the decomposition adds to citizens’ hardship.

Kermanshah, EarthquakeThere is talk of providing millions of tomans in loans and grants to each family for reconstruction, or, using Rouhani’s words, to build their houses themselves. Would the promised money cover a fraction of the costs of building a tiny cottage made of pisé, even in today’s estimates?
The government’s financial aid resources were expressed in rial, to impress people with figures in billions. An overused cheap trick.

The Byzantine procedures, the fussiness of the Iranian bureaucracy over paperwork, corruption and improvisations would greatly reduce the amount of money paid to the victims. This is not vicious speculation or a malicious view. It is based on an observation from what was done in the aftermath of the earthquake in Bam in 2003, and based on reports from the people involved in helping the victims since then. There was a lot to be learned from that dramatic episode: in aid management, corruption and vanishing money. Lessons were not learned.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is incorrigible; once a boondoggle, always a boondoggle.

Already sharks have lined up for a round of reconstruction. The Housing Foundation of the Islamic Revolution is contracting the Khatam-al Anbiya Construction Headquarters, that is IRGC, to carry out the job of affordable housing. Money would come from one pocket and go to another. Perhaps a few cheap houses as vulnerable as those totally destroyed by the earthquake would mushroom in number here and there.

The houses that collapsed like sandcastles were built under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, himself a staunch member of the IRGC, and an ex-favourite of Ali Khamenei.
In the process of his rigged election (2009), the regime’s snipers killed, and the henchmen jailed and raped unarmed protesters.

Today, in the political arena, he symbolises the evil and has been thrown as raw meat to the pack of wolves led by the Larijani brothers. Since bird-names replace the usual hypocritical ta’arofs in Iranian political vocabulary, Ahmadinejad is now publicly called a foul mouthed boor by the very same men that backed him in 2009.

This how politics work in Iran: one day, the chief is cheered and people scarified to him; the next day, he is covered with dung and stamped on. Once his term of office ends Hassan Rouhani will be the next scapegoat of the Velayat-e Faqih.

Change in the Political Paradigm

The aftermath of Kermanshah’s earthquake is certainly not going to be much different from what happened in Bam: in a short time, the ministries will abandon the people. They will cope with their wretchedness on their own.

In the 1990s, the Kermanshah province barely survived the destruction from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
Once more, the population will have to mobilise their ability in finding solutions for the inevitable difficulties, hindered by the government’s petty policies and bureaucracy.

However, there is a changing mood and paradigm. There are reports of billions of tomans being collected by private donators to give to private personalities, to be spent in the area. This is a loud and clear public expression of the vote of no confidence in the corrupt political system and its financial institutions.

Hopefully, next time the Iranians have to elect their president, they will remember this episode. We would love to believe that they would make their own choice and would not blindly follow another clown chosen by the Supreme Leader and the nepotist system, whistling all the way to the ballot boxes and chanting: Yes to the Leader! Labeik be Rahbarm.

The Iranians are somewhat known for their ability to circumvent and adjust to the hardships created by their authorities’ policies. A little change in the political paradigm might reduce their ability to adjust passively and let their potential to act positively increase.
Would they be able to ask for their rights with self-confidence and in defiance of the government’s mismanagement and corruption?

An adjective is associated with Kermanshahis and their neighbours: غیور, meaning hardy, mettlesome.
Let’s hope the word keeps its promises.

Kermanshah, Earthquake

Kermanshah: تف به گور مصیبت . Spit on disaster’s grave.

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