Aid agencies await the call to assist after Iran-Iraq quake

Across the border in Iraq, organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières are running small scale operations

epa06326926 Iranian red crescent and rescue workers try to extract the body of a victim from underneath the wreckage of a collapsed building in the city of Pole-Zahab, in Kermanshah Province, Iran, 13 November 2017. A 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Iran's Kermanshah province bordering Iraq has killed over 328 inhabitants and left at least another 3,950 injured, Iranian authorities said.  EPA/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH
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Within hours of disaster striking in northern Iran and Iraq on Sunday night, aid agencies in the country scrambled into action while overseas organisations began to plan how they could best help the victims of the 7.3 magnitude earthquake, which to date has claimed hundreds of dead and injured thousands.

“The Iranian Red Crescent Society has deployed response teams which include equipment for shelter, first aid, and search and rescue in the aftermath of the earthquake to the affected cities,” said Ms Mansoureh Bagheri, Iran Red Crescent Society’s director for international operations.

A counterpart at the Iraqi Red Crescent Society described operations in that country. “Immediately after the earthquake, we have deployed our teams to evacuate the injured and provide first aid to the affected communities. Our team are working around the clock in the affected areas”, said Mohamad Khosaii.

As the Iranian authorities have indicated that they have no need for assistance immediately in terms of boots on the ground, the focal point for organisations outside of the country has been to prepare to give assistance if and when they are called upon.

Turkey’s Red Crescent was sending 3,000 tents and blankets to the afflicted areas of Iran, according to Anadolu News Agency. The country’s disaster management agency Afad was also sending containers full of aid. “Turkey stands ready to provide search and rescue teams,” foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) already had staff in the region, at the Sulaymaniyah Emergency Hospital in northern Iraq, where they support the emergency room and the intensive care unit, which received 80 cases related to the earthquake.


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“The patients were suffering from minor injuries such as cuts, scratches, small fractures and anxiety. The hospital did not receive any major casualties,” an MSF spokesman said. “[Our] teams are monitoring the situation closely. We have teams ready to respond if required.”

Lise Grande, humanitarian coordinator for Iraq of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that “our priority right now is to help local authorities respond as quickly as possible. An assessment team has just arrived in Darbandikhan, one of the areas worst impacted by this quake.

“[Monday] morning, the World Health Organization sent an immediate response team and two ambulances to Sulaymaniyah Hospital, the primary hospital in the area, along with trauma and surgical kits,” said Ms Grande. “The key is to act quickly so we can help prevent any further loss of life.”

Other organisations were gearing up to help. Muslim Aid, a UK-based international relief and development agency that works in over 70 countries across Africa, Asia and Europe, to help after natural disasters and lack of life’s basic necessities was planning its response.

“We are responding to the earthquake to assist those in need,” says Zac Hussain, the agency’s business development director.

Mark Nicholson of the UK based relief agency Shelterbox told The National that “[we] responded to a massive quake in Iran on Boxing Day 2003, when over 26,000 died. So, sadly, this region is well used to major seismic activity, and will have the resources to respond. But we are standing by for any request for assistance.”