AFP: A year after one of the worst earthquakes in modern history, residents of the Iranian city of Bam are to pay their final respects Saturday to the 30,000 dead and bring an end to the traditional
12 months of mourning.
People from Bam and the surrounding region are to converge on cemeteries where loved ones were hastily buried after the earthquake that measured up to 6.7 on the Richter scale and reduced the town's magnificent citadel to rubble. AFP

by Laurent Lozano

BAM, Iran - A year after one of the worst earthquakes in modern history, residents of the Iranian city of Bam are to pay their final respects Saturday to the 30,000 dead and bring an end to the traditional 12 months of mourning.

People from Bam and the surrounding region are to converge on cemeteries where loved ones were hastily buried after the earthquake that measured up to 6.7 on the Richter scale and reduced the town's magnificent citadel to rubble.

It came in the night, surprising the 90,000 population as they were sleeping. According to Bam's governor, 31,884 people were killed and 18,000 injured, while UNICEF says that up to 10,000 children lost their lives.

Survivors have spent the year trying to rebuild their lives but are now hanunted by the bitter sensation that the authorities have forgotten their cause.

Many inhabitants express fury at the slowness of the reconstruction process, with their city still in ruins. Tens of thousands of people are still living in pre-fabricated accommodation on the outskirts.

Meanwhile, worries are mounting about illicit trading that has germinated amid the social chaos created by the earthquake. "There remain concerns of trafficking of every kind," said Frederick Lyons of the United Nations.

On the traditional route for trafficking drugs from neighbouring Afghanistan and Pakistan, there has been no let-up in activity. There have even been rumours of organ smuggling and trafficking children for prostitution.

"The issue of childern being used for trafficking was brought to our attention and we are very concerned by this situation," said Kari Egge, the representative in Bam of the UN children's agency UNICEF.

"As far as we know there has been no evidence that there was smuggling of children but this does not mean it may not have taken place," he said.

Alcohol, strictly prohibited in the Islamic republic, is "flowing just like it's coming out of the tap", said a doctor.

Strangers have come into the city, some out of necessity, but others attracted by the international aid.

Amid the continued problems, a visit by President Mohammad Khatami this week was a subdued affair, with the president admitting that more could be done for the population.

It was "impossible to completely satisfy the population", but "things must be done quicker", said Khatami.

"The general framework of the city will be completed by next summer, with the construction of public buildings, stadiums, and leisure and sports centres," he said. Khatami vowed a new hospital would be ready in 45 days.

The earthquake aroused an unprecedented degree of solidarity between the Islamic republic and international organisations while even Iran's arch-enemy the United States sent help.

The United Nations and other organisations are continuing to work on the ground to boost the economy, help children go to school, rebuild the town and help survivors to overcome their trauma.

"One year on, the signs of of devastation are still clear not only in the ruinued buildings but in the spirit of the people," said Mohammad Mukhier, Red Cross director of operations in Iran.

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