Controversy over earthquake relief funds

[Iran] Bam earthquake - Ruins.
Thousands of people were left homeless by the 26 December quake (Ramita Navai)

The Iranian Foreign Ministry has given the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) $2 million following a demand by the head of IRCS that the Iranian government account for $10 million of foreign aid sent to help the victims of December's deadly earthquake in the southeastern city of Bam.

Local newspapers had reported IRCS head, Ahmad-Ali Nourbala, as saying that there was evidence that foreign organisations had provided more than $11.8 million in aid, but IRCS had only received $1.9 million.

"Their failure to give a clear answer would lead to national distrust and international disgrace," Reuters quoted Nourbala as saying in the reformist newspaper Hambastegi.

"The Red Crescent will not be able to continue providing aid relief to Bam survivors if this trend continues," he said.

Nourbala said the Iranian government has so far failed to give the IRCS the amount promised - $7.1 million.

Nearly $500 million in relief assistance has been pledged to Iran by dozens of countries and NGOs after the devastating earthquake, which measured 6.8 on the Richter scale, killed at least 45,000 people and razed the city of Bam. But in a bid to dampen growing tension surrounding the distribution of aid, the Foreign Ministry has now stepped in with the latest offering.

"A few days after the articles came out, the Foreign Ministry gave the Red Crescent about $2 million and gave the Ministry of Economy and Finance about $5 million, making the total given to the Red Crescent about $4 million," Sayed Mehran Noorbaksh, the head of public relations for the IRCS, told IRIN.

But Noorbaksh claims that the reason the IRCS has not received all its money is not the government's fault - it has not yet received all the money pledged by the international community.

"The government is now actually waiting to receive all the monies from the international community - not all of it has arrived, that's why we haven't received it all. In total they are expecting about $11 million - which is nothing really, not to rebuild an entire city. A lot more is needed." He said.

There is growing disquiet among survivors of the quake about the slow distribution of aid. Iran's Sharq newspaper reported that the governor-general of Bam has resigned over criticism from survivors of the handling of aid. Last week hundreds of survivors took part in mass demonstrations in the earthquake-stricken city, protesting at the slow pace of the relief effort and their living conditions.

An IRCS coordinator who wishes to remain unnamed blames the problem on Iranian bureaucracy and suggests a new approach to aid distribution.

"The spending of aid money is at present very inefficient. There should really be an independent supervisory board overseeing the process - this would make sure that the money is used properly," he told IRIN.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

Share this article
Join the discussion

Support The New Humanitarian

Your support helps us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.