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Iran, Relief Agencies Praise Response to Bam Quake

Relief agencies and Iranian officials have praised the international community's initial response to the earthquake that leveled the city of Bam. Post-earthquake reconstruction costs could run as high as $1 billion over the next two years.

If there was a silver lining to the horrible earthquake cloud over Bam last month, it was the outpouring of humanitarian assistance from all over the globe. Within days of the disaster, 1,700 volunteers from 40 countries arrived on the scene.

In all, more than 60 countries pitched in to help.

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland called it probably the most effective operation he's witnessed in his 20 years on the job. "There've been big disasters before, earthquakes in Iran, and we've not been able to have our international solidarity organized in a very effective way. This time it was extremely efficient," he said.

Mr. Egeland credited the Tehran government for opening the country to foreign humanitarian workers, and the Iranian Red Crescent for organizing and coordinating the assistance effort.

But now the hard part begins. It's been more than two weeks since the quake struck. Hope of finding more survivors among the rubble has faded. Rescue teams are being replaced, first by agencies providing food, water, shelter and sanitation to the survivors.

They, in turn, will give way to reconstruction crews. Their task will be to save whatever might be salvageable from the ancient city of Bam, and to build new structures that can withstand future shocks in the earthquake-prone region.

Iran's deputy U.N. ambassador Mehdi Danesh-Yazdi expressed concern that his own hometown of Yaz, like dozens of other ancient Iranian towns and cities surrounding Bam, is a disaster waiting to happen if another earthquake hits. "My hometown, it's a city in the middle part of Iran in a deserted area, and the houses are more or less like the houses used to be in Bam, and the old part of the city particularly is made from mud, and I think, God forbid, if anything happens, on that scale, an earthquake would level the whole city," he said. "What can we do right now? Inhabitants are more than 150-thousand. Can the government move the people from their traditional houses?"

U.N. officials say just the reconstruction of Bam could cost one billion dollars. They have issued a flash appeal to donor countries for more help over the next 90 days, and a further campaign for the long-term.

Red Crescent officials say Gulf countries have been most generous in the early days. They say the United States government and U.S.-based non-governmental organizations are also among the significant contributors.