ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – One full year after an earthquake claimed the lives of hundreds in primarily Kurdish towns of Iran, families in the most affected regions are preparing to spend another freezing winter in makeshift tents and trailers and with limited access to essential services.
The 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit along the Iran-Iraq border on Nov. 12, 2017, with towns in the Kurdish-majority regions of Iran bearing the brunt of the overall destruction and casualties. Tremors could be felt as far as 1000 kilometers eastward in Israel and southward in the UAE.
The Kurdistan Region's city of Halabja and Iranian towns from Kermanshah (Kermashan) Province's two counties of Ezgeleh and Salas-e Babajani were closest to the epicenter of the quake. Over half of the Iranian casualties were from the latter's two cities of Ezgeleh and Sarpol-e Zahab.
Figures released afterward indicated that nearly 630 people were confirmed killed as a result of the quake, over 8,100 were injured, more than 70,000 left homeless, and thousands of others still unaccounted for. In the Kurdistan Region, seven were killed and 500 others wounded.
European countries and international aid organizations have since provided support in the form of emergency relief packages, tents, and various forms of mobile appliances.
However, despite Tehran's declaration that it could manage the crisis on its own, the government has, for the most part, failed to provide much-needed relief. Many residents continue to live in camps under harsh conditions as another bitter and unforgiving winter approaches in the mountainous, high-altitude region.
Weeks after the incident, as rain and cold temperatures made life harder for the homeless victims, many told Kurdistan 24 that they had given up waiting for government assistance and began to rebuild their own homes and shelters.
Several months later, these families continue to live in makeshift housing units they constructed out of basic materials with many roofs fashioned only out of tarp and nylon.
"This has been our life for the past year; living in this mud with very little space," a woman in a camp near the city of Sarpol-e Zahab told Kurdistan 24 on Monday. She also said that living conditions there were unsustainable. For example, she continued, the roofing continues to fail and allow water to seep in, just as residents brace for the rainy season.
Though Tehran has agreed on an aid policy and taken some steps for the reconstruction of the destroyed homes, locals state that the scope of their efforts has been minimal, with most victims still resorting to their own temporary housing units and tents.
"Less than 30 percent of the people have returned to their homes," a man living in one of the tents told Kurdistan 24. "The government has not reimbursed us or given us loans necessary" to rebuild damaged and destroyed houses.
Constricted to tight spaces, the improvised shacks built in camping areas have poor sanitation and lack access to clean sources of water. This has led to the spread of sicknesses, especially among children, in the summer months. They say that the lack of proper heating has also caused the flu to infect many people.
Showing their living space to Kurdistan 24, one family explained that, due to space limitations, they have been forced to have their kitchen and bathroom next to each other. Despite taking special care to maintain cleanliness and hygiene, they say they fear more serious health issues to come.
Editing by John J. Catherine