Iran General NewsMemories that haunt orphans of Iran quake a year...

Memories that haunt orphans of Iran quake a year on

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Daily Telegraph: A year after surviving an earthquake that destroyed his town, 10-year-old Hossein still cannot sleep indoors. “We’ve tried to persuade him to sleep inside,” said Maryam Ghasemi, who heads the Mahshiz Institution for Boys, located on an arid tract of land a mile south of Bam. “But every time we persuade him to spend the night indoors, we get a tremor that triggers the miserable memories of last year.” Daily Telegraph

By Behzad Farsian in Bam

A year after surviving an earthquake that destroyed his town, 10-year-old Hossein still cannot sleep indoors.

“We’ve tried to persuade him to sleep inside,” said Maryam Ghasemi, who heads the Mahshiz Institution for Boys, located on an arid tract of land a mile south of Bam. “But every time we persuade him to spend the night indoors, we get a tremor that triggers the miserable memories of last year.”

Hossein and his 19 room-mates are considered to be the lucky survivors of the earthquake on Dec 26, 2003, which killed more than 30,000 people, including all his family. It measured 6.3 on the Richter scale and reduced the ancient largely mud-and-brick Iranian town to rubble and dust.

Eighty thousand of the 90,000 population were left homeless. Today an estimated 37,000 inhabitants still live in temporary housing outside the town.

“Many children didn’t have a home for months after the earthquake but we have been looking after these kids since January,” said Maryam, sitting in a gloomy grey room surrounded by donated tattered toys and second-hand torn clothes.

The care offered in centres such as Mahshiz, which was set up by the Iranian Red Crescent, is vital, but the Iranian authorities and Unicef, the UN’s children’s agency, are in sharp disagreement over how to provide for up to 5,000 orphans.

Under Iranian law, only families with no children can adopt and it is rare to find prospective parents who do not have children or wish to start their own family, said Frederick Sizeret, Bam’s Unicef child protection officer.

“We are not in favour of institutional care for orphaned children,” he said. “This is not psychologically appropriate for a child and we have been tracing the families of the orphaned children to foster the kids preferably with family members or volunteer foster parents.”

Implementing Unicef principles is an arduous process in the Islamic theocracy.

“Iranians are very reluctant to train volunteers to assist with issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said, adding that Unicef had hired more than 70 local volunteers from Bam to assist with the 13 rejuvenating centres across the city.

The people of Bam complain bitterly about the government.

“Look!” said the taxi driver as he drove slowly past heaps of bricks flanking the main road.

“This was the Bank Saderat building. They [the government”> immediately resurrected a cabin after the earthquake because they want the money coming in.”

Cleaning up debris has proved a mammoth task for the authorities, which have assigned 1,000 dump trucks to clear individual plots of land. Governor Mohammad Rafizadeh said more than seven million loads have been removed. He said he “understands people’s impatience”, blaming the inadequacy of the loans system set up for reconstruction or people’s refusal to move into smaller homes.

Bonyad Maskan, from the local Islamic Housing Foundation in charge of rebuilding, estimates that rebuilding each house costs $1,000 [£520″>, with 24,000 housing units, 3,782 shops and 265 public buildings still to be reconstructed.

Mr Maskan says the clearing up is nearly complete, but it is common to find a car that was sliced in half by a falling lamppost.

The town’s citadel, which was the world’s largest mud-brick edifice, still looks more like a pile of red sand.

Back at Mahshiz, Hossein eats his lunch while giggling with his friends, apparently nonchalant despite the tragedy. He says that he wants to be a fireman when he grows up, but he tugs Maryam, whispering in her ear, “Ask if he knows anyone abroad who has a bicycle they don’t need?”

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