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Iran Floods May Continue - 2001-08-20

International aid agencies are warning that the devastating floods that hit northern Iran earlier this month are likely to be repeated as more rain is forecast. The flooding has claimed more than 200 lives and hundreds of others are reported missing and feared dead.

The floods, caused by torrential and unseasonable rains, are the worst to hit the region in more than 200 years. So far more than one million people have been affected by storms that hit the northeastern provinces of Golestan, Khorassan, and Semman.

Kahle Loovi heads Middle East operations for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. He has just returned from a five-day mission to assess the situation in Iran. He is afraid things will get worse. "Because these rains now are combined with a four-year continued drought, the soil cannot absorb the water when it is coming so quickly," he said. "And that is rather sure that in these eastern parts of Iran, there will be more of these kinds of flash floods."

The United Nations estimates the floods have caused at least $80 million in damages. The Iranian government says it is coping with the emergency. Nevertheless, it says it would welcome international support in responding to the disaster.

The Red Cross says floods have disrupted electricity, gas and water supplies in two of Iran's northern provinces. Roads have been cut, isolating certain areas from the rest of the country.

Mr. Loovi says about 40,000 hectares of farmland have been destroyed. "Quite a lot of agricultural land is actually spoiled by the mud. So, the mud is covering the land now and that will be impossible to cultivate for many years," he said. "Also, the flash floods killed quite a lot of animals. So, especially the farmers, which were living of course along the river bank, they have been suffering."

Mr. Loovi says Iran has started to re-build roads and bridges and hopes to begin construction of houses in the near future. He says the Red Cross has distributed more than 150 tons of food, tents, blankets and other necessities to flood victims. But he says more help is urgently needed.