Iranian state media say at least 436 people were killed and thousands more were injured when a massive earthquake struck near the Iran-Iraq border on November 14, flattening entire villages in a predominantly Kurdish and Sunni region. The Iranian government, the army and international aid organisation the Red Crescent sent aid to the affected areas, where water, food, tents, blankets, sanitary products and blood stocks were in desperately short supply. But it was the way in which Iranians came together to help their neighbours in the midst of a catastrophe that touched onlookers around the world.
The earthquake hit 7.3 on the Richter scale, and is considered to be the year’s deadliest earthquake anywhere in the world. Iranian officials say some 30,000 homes were either damaged or destroyed in the western province of Kermanshah. However, social media showed another side to the disaster: heartwarming images of Iranian people coming together to look after their fellow citizens.
Social media as a tool for aid
Social media was used to mobilise aid for the affected areas. Telegram and Instagram acted as networks to connect people from all over Iran – to locate survivors, identify what supplies were needed in what area, drum up donations, and organise relief trips.
People all over Iran went to their local Red Crescent offices to hand in donations of food, water, blankets and clothes, so that the supplies could be transported to Kermanshah province. In response, survivors from the earthquake-hit region responded by laying out welcome committees at the edge of their towns to greet people bringing aid, creating small flyers to thank their compatriots for their kindness.
Volunteers published photos on social media of acts of selflessness from people living in the worst-struck areas. In the video below, a family from a village close to Kermanshah refused emergency supplies given to them by an aid worker, saying: “We have enough here, keep going, there are other villages further down the road that are harder to reach and don’t have much – go and give it to them; they need it more than us”.
Another volunteer described how they gave two boxes of nappies to a woman with a baby, but she would only take one. When giving back the other box, she instructed, “Take it to the next village”.
Long queues to give blood
Blood banks announced soon after the earthquake that there was an urgent shortage of type O blood. Across the country, Iranians responded to the appeal in their hundreds. Long lines formed in front of blood donation centres in cities such as Tehran and Qom, with people queuing for hours in order to donate blood. After only one day, blood banks told the public that while type O blood normally made up only 5 per cent of their blood stocks, now 17 per cent of their stocks were type O, and that there was no more need for donations.
Sports stars giving up gold
A number of Iranian Olympic and Paralympic champions announced that they would auction off their sporting medals to raise money to go towards the survivors. Sara Javanmardi, a two-time Paralympic Shooting gold medallist, and Kianoush Rostami, an Olympic weightlifting champion, both decided to sell off their awards.
Despite the huge mobilisation of Iranians all over the country, there are still towns without basic supplies. The France 24 Observers team spoke to our Observers in the affected areas, and they’re worried that after the initial surge of aid, the government will forget about them when it comes to rebuilding their demolished homes.
The Iranian government announced on November 15 that they would give families affected by the disaster 5-6 million tomans [1000 – 1200 euros] to help with living costs, while also giving a loan of 25 – 30 million tomans [approximately 7000 – 9000 euros] to each family to help pay for reconstruction costs.