Press Conference by United Nations Coordinator on Earthquake in Iran

17 April 2013

Press Conference by United Nations Coordinator on Earthquake in Iran

17 April 2013
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by United Nations Coordinator on Earthquake in Iran


Though entitled to do so, neither the Government of Iran nor the national Red Crescent Society had requested external assistance from the United Nations or any other source following yesterday’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake in the moderately populated Sistan va Baluchestan region, the United Nations Resident Coordinator said today.

Speaking via telephone link at a Headquarters press conference, Gary Lewis, who is also the United Nations Development Programme’s Resident Representative in Iran, was providing an update on the Government response on the ground and the coordination mechanisms in place should the situation worsen, as in the event of another earthquake.  He said he had been told that neither money nor other types of assistance were required at the present time.  However, the United Nations stood “ready, willing, and I dare say, able” to help should the Iranian authorities need any such assistance.

Should that in fact become the case, he said, his office, working closely with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva and its sub-office in Cairo, would trigger a number of mechanisms, including “voice” and “operations”.  Regarding the “voice”, he explained that his office would work as an honest broker — advocating, convening and disseminating — while in terms of “operations”, the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team that was part of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ international response system for sudden-onset emergencies was on 24-hour standby to be deployed, as was a system linked to the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group.

“There is a lot that could be done should the emergency require it,” he continued.  “But the situation as we understand it now, the message coming to us in terms of both informal and formal communications, has been that it is being handled locally; the response is comprehensive, and that is where we stand at the moment.”  The Government response so far had been overseen by the Red Crescent Society, working under the overall aegis of the National Disaster Management Organization, which in turn worked closely with the provincial authorities.  He said his office maintained close contact with the authorities on relief-and-rescue operations, and also had a technical cooperation programme with all the disaster-management entities concerned.

Thus, the response had been driven largely by Government authorities, who were internationally recognized as competent and professional, he said.  A number of elements had already been pre-positioned, and with the earthquake having struck a remote area with a relatively low population density, the casualty rate had been equally low, with the Red Crescent Society reporting one dead and 20 injured so far.  A number of villagers had been provided with initial assistance, including about 10 camps with some 400 tents.

That number had increased dramatically in the past 24 hours, he said.  About 1,700 persons had received support or relief of some sort, essentially ranging from tents and ground sheets, blankets, water and food to hygiene sets and the like.  In anticipation of damage to urban areas in Khash and Saravan, it was understood that sniffer dogs had been deployed and the number of assessment and relief-and-rescue teams currently stood at 46.  They had all been sent in from Zahedan, the provincial capital, and the surrounding provinces.

Asked what explained the low casualty toll from an earthquake of such magnitude, Mr. Lewis said that while he was not an expert in the field, he believed from speaking to experts that the low casualty rate was due partly to the great depth at which the eruption had occurred.  Although the affected region was not densely populated, the toll would have been significantly different had earthquake occurred at a much shallower depth.

Asked if he was concerned about the safety of the nuclear plant at Bushehr following last week’s 6.1 magnitude earthquake in southern Iran, in which at least 37 people had died, Mr. Lewis said that any dangerous incident occurring near a nuclear reactor could cause damage.  The world, especially the people of Japan, were living with the consequences of that event, “so yes, one would obviously be concerned”.

He categorically refuted suggestions that Iran was perhaps not requesting the type of aid it had sought following the 6.6 magnitude earthquake in Bam — in which 26,271 people had been killed and 30,000 injured — due to concerns that United Nations agencies might use their access to information for purposes of reporting back on potential nuclear-related issues, thereby affecting the Organization’s ability to respond to real humanitarian needs.  “Not at all,” he emphasized.  “I say that unequivocally.  The Islamic Republic of Iran is a founder member of the United Nations, and we have been working on the ground with Iran for many, many years, and especially in the area of disaster risk reduction.”  Everything was being done, in accordance with the world body’s main frame of reference for the provision of technical cooperation, the so-called United Nations Development Assistance Framework, one of its pillars being purely related to disaster reduction and prevention, he added.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.