Posts Tagged ‘corruption’


Every piece tells a story

October 12, 2008

7/10/08, Bam

In the evening, so as to avoid the sweltering heat of Iran’s southeaster desert, we went for a wander in town of Bam towards the Arg, the historic site of old city. I say ‘town’, but really, even five years on from the quake, Bam is still no more than an accumulation of innumerable construction sights wedged between dense date palm groves. I did not see a single building that predated the quake: you can tell because all buildings have been rebuilt with a quake-proof steel frame, which provides the vertical and horizontal support for each floor and every staircase. Each wall is diagonally dissected with another piece of steel that links the top right-hand corner to the bottom left. It is in the spaces between these steel rods that bricks are inserted, which means that from the outside you see the steel supports and the bricks filling the gaps between. The steel structures line the roadsides in different phases of construction. Some, like those already described, have been completed with bricks. Others exhibit no further construction at all, just gaping structures; the preliminary stage of a Meccano project whose young architect got distracted by something else, and was therefore never finished.

Yet even these structures are not the most prevalent: the majority of shops that line the streets of Bam are housed in metal containers, the kinds used to transport cargo on ships. From mechanics to car part retailers, from barbers and clothes outlets to grocery and spice shops: all the commercial activities of a town have been compartamentalised into roadside boxes of iron. Even Bam’s bazaar, which in other Iranian cities is housed under the ornate arches and covered-alleys of the old town, has been temporarily reconstructed in a web of shops and services set out in these containers. Their heavy metal doors hang open off their hinges, hovering some 30 centimetres off the ground like so many suspended hopes for a swift retrieval of normalcy. The containers heat up like furnaces in the desert sun, and I cannot imagine how they have been the seats of various business activities for all these years. I suppose, though, that necessity is as much the mother of resilience as invention.

I wondered how, five years after the disaster, people were still living such makeshift lives. Accounts of the causes of this differ. On one hand, in the immediate aftermath of the quake, the Iranian government was simultaneously accused of not having done enough to prevent the high death toll (ie not investing in quake-proof infrastructure), and of embezzling aid money. Frustrated bloggers vented their anger at the regime’s prioritization of other causes instead of the welfare of Iranians:

I want to know how many thousands of people dead under the rubble would have lived if all this money that our rulers have spent in the last few decades on Palestine, Lebanon and Bosnia, had been spent on the sort of safety measures that are the north in other earthquake zones.”, 30/12/2003


Moreover, the Iranian Red Crescent indicated that it had only received some $2 million dollars out of the $12 million donated to them for relief assistance. The remaining $10 million could not be accounted for or located. Nasrin Alavi, author of We are Iran,claims that this is a consequence of bureaucratic chaos and state corruption.

On the other hand, Akbar voiced his satisfaction with the efforts of the powers that be. He claimed that the Iranian government were funding most of Bam’s reconstruction, and seemed grateful to them for doing so: ‘We couldn’t do it without them’. His comments, however, indicated that he considered the government’s involvement as a favour rather than a duty. Yet in the context, they seemed more like the necessary optimism required in order to continue life in a post-natural disaster environment than a detached evaluation of the situation.

* * *

The Arg e-Bam. The mud-brick town in its state of post-quake dilapidation, proudly bearing the bandages of reconstruction (scaffolding, JCBs and hard hat-clad construction workers), is a humbling sight. On one hand, there is are the inklings of its past grandeur: its sheer size, covering about 1 square kilometres; the majestic stature of the citadel watching over the town beneath; the fruit-bearing palm trees that remain standing in crumbled courtyards. One knows one is treading in the dust of a powerful, proud city. On the other hand, there is the destruction. The hands of immense and immortal natural forces have created an infinitely different town from that which was the result of human endeavours. Piles of rubble where once there stood public baths; gaping holes in place of winding market streets; cracked, disintegrating walls instead of robust ramparts.

Before and after photographs at the entrance of the site give a real sense of the scale of the damage caused by the earthquake. Seeing the consequences of Mother Nature on this one town made me wonder how many other places had suffered similar fates over the eons… It made me contemplate the impermanence and relative futility of humanity in the face of such force. It consolidated the notion that with a single twitch of the vast planetary skin, all we have is literally reducible to dust.