Bam - one year after

Bam - one year after
Published: 05 January 2005

A year after an earthquake that killed at least 30,000 people in just seconds, and on the surface not much has changed. The mangled remains of a lost city are strewn across this once-fertile desert oasis. Debris, rubble and twisted metal girders are still piled high on every street and down every alley, almost untouched since the earthquake struck on 26 December 2003. Around them are date trees and a few half collapsed buildings stubbornly standing, precariously lopsided.

But the devastation that still litters Bam is not a sign that it has been left to rot, but an indication of the magnitude of the natural disaster and the colossal business of rebuilding a city from scratch. The quake left three out of four of the city’s 100,000 residents homeless, injured at least 50,000 people and created more than 5,000 orphans.

"The rebuilding of Bam is going slower than we expected but that’s purely because it’s an enormous task," Patrick Parsons, a project coordinator for the NGO Merlin, told IRIN. "Twelve million cubic metres of rubble have to be removed before you can even think of rebuilding. You can’t build a city overnight - it’s impossible," he said.

There are some signs of reconstruction sprouting up throughout the city. According to official figures, about five per cent of the houses have been rebuilt.  Elsewhere mounds of fresh bricks and silos of cement dot the flattened wasteland. This is the first evidence that after a year of finalising the Master Plan - the blueprint for mapping, designing and building the new city - it has finally been approved and is ready to launch.

Two major sources of income for Bam were the tourism trade and the dates that hung heavy from the date trees. Thousands of tourists a year would come to Bam to get lost in the labyrinthine alleys of its deserted walled citadel. Over 2000 years old, many travellers claimed it was a wonder of the Middle East. With most of it crumbled into dust and now, apart from parts of the old fortress, it resembles a giant pit of crumbling mud brick. UNESCO has agreed to include Bam as a World Heritage Site which should enable increased funding. There are proposals to rebuild the citadel which Bam residents told IRIN would greatly assist regeneration of the tourist industry.

"The Bam tragedy underscores the need for increased attention to disaster prevention and risk reduction," Jan Egeland, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, said. "There is a need to pay more attention to essential buildings and infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, which are key when an earthquake strikes," said Salvano Briceno, director of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. "Architects, mayors, local and regional land planners have to work hand in hand to reduce vulnerability and to design safer buildings," he added.