I arrived in the area that had suffered the most damage on Monday morning. Volunteers from the Red Crescent were everywhere, giving people water, blankets and tents. There were also many other ordinary people who had travelled to the area to bring whatever supplies they could find. It was quite incredible how everyone pitched in. There were even a few engineers who built a makeshift kitchen to provide people with warm meals.
Lots of people on social networks are now criticising the state television stations, accusing them of having waited too long to start covering the disaster. When I visited the region, I saw some journalists, but most seemed to be working for independent media and had been there from day one.
I visited the villages of Bajeh Baj and Chobanlar, which were completely levelled. Local residents were so kind – they even apologised to me that their homes had been destroyed and so they couldn’t host me as a guest. People living there were already incredibly poor before the earthquake, but they still shared the aid they had been given and tried to help each other. I saw one man who had taught in the local school a few years ago and who had rushed there to see what had happened to his students. The children were so excited to see him, but when he asked about other children who weren’t there, they broke into tears.
“Those left homeless will require more help in the coming weeks, when the cold season begins”
Myself, I had collected some money for friends to bring as much as I could. Pharmacies and shops in the area have reduced their prices, which helped a lot. One pharmacy owner, when I told him I was buying supplies for the earthquake victims, even gave me powdered milk and other medicines for free.
I think all these supplies will meet the locals’ basic needs for a few more days, but they will require more help in the coming weeks, when the cold season begins. The main question all the locals were asking was, ‘When will our homes be rebuilt?’ And nobody had an answer for them.
I hope aid continues to flow in and that this process will stay free of any politics. There also need for more volunteers who speak Azeri, as the local population doesn’t understand Persian well and so it’s difficult for them to express their needs.