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BAM's ORPHANS REMAIN IN SHOCK

The Australian
January 6, 2004

From AP and AFP correspondents in Bam

The babies have no one now. There is no one for the boy found cradled in his dead mother's arms. Or the boy rescued a week later, alive in the rubble of the Bam earthquake. Or the newborn delivered after his mother died.

Iran has been flooded with offers to adopt such orphans, but authorities announced yesterday that they needed more time. Officials want to be sure the children's parents are dead.

They want to be sure that relatives from other provinces and countries have time to search for their loved ones. They want to wait at least three months before allowing any of the children to be released for adoption.

"Not yet," said Reza Khoshnood, of the government-run Better Life Organisation, which operates the orphanage helping most of the surviving children. "We have to be certain."

As many as 35,000 people died in the earthquake that hit Bam early on December 26, destroying much of the Silk Road city famous for its ancient mud-brick citadel. More than one-third of the town's population is dead.

Many of those killed were children, as are many of those left behind. Officials estimate that 2000 children lost their parents in the quake. The Better Life orphanage in Kerman, about 180km north of Bam, has served as a transit centre for most of the children left alone.

Some have been picked up by relatives within hours. Some have been sent to smaller centres. Sick and injured children have stayed and have been doted on by workers and strangers, who drop off pastries, nappies and trinkets.

Many of the children could not talk during their first few days at the orphanage. They cried, walked in circles. Those younger than 6 were not sure what happened. They repeatedly asked for their parents. The older children knew what happened. The children talk more now but they still seem in shock.

"Our house started shaking," said Sahar Farsi, skipping from subject to subject like a typical 7-year-old. "Is this your cell phone? Can I play with it? My mum isn't here any more."

No one has come for her yet.

As the orphans await their fate, life goes on elsewhere and Iranian authorities are starting to draw up a multi-million-dollar reconstruction plan for Bam. With almost all of the dead now buried and an official mourning period over, officials said a special committee had been formed to oversee plans for the rebuilding of the city and its ancient citadel.

"They have given themselves one month to come up with that plan," said Jesper Lund, a UN official in charge of the international relief effort.

Half the reconstruction cost, at the moment estimated to total at least $US500 million ($660 million), would come from "external sources", Mr Lund said. But Iranian authorities appeared undecided over whether the city should be put up again on the same site.

 

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