BAM (Iran): “Was the earthquake that hit this ancient Silk Road city on Dec 26 an act of God venting his wrath on a morally decaying society?” asks Dr Afshin Asadi, the head of the Insurance Unit of the Imam Khomeini Hospital.
“Although not engulfed in lawlessness, Bam has degraded over the years, with about 25% of its about 200,000 people being opium addicts.
“Almost all the heads of the 26,000 families in Bam are opium addicts.
“Many others make a living in one way or another from the opium trade. Maybe the earthquake was God’s way of punishing the people of Bam.
“Or else, why should the epicentre of the earthquake be in Bam?” he reasoned.
Bam, located in the vast plains between the Barez and Kabudi mountain ranges, was for centuries used by merchants and travellers plying between China and Europe.
Today, the city is the major transit point for opium and cannabis, mainly from neighbouring Afghanistan, destined for Europe and the Gulf region.
Bam was once a major draw for the few foreigners visiting Iran but several kidnappings of tourists in recent years by drug traffickers has put a dent in promotions of the city, whose major draw is the 2,000-year-old Arg-e Bam citadel.
Now, the five-storey citadel, constructed entirely of mud bricks, lies in ruins.
More than 30,000 people died in the earthquake, leaving the survivors to mourn the death of their loved ones and begin building their lives all over again.
Dr Afshin lost his home and car in the incident.
He estimated the losses to be about US$50,000 (RM190,000) – quite a substantial amount in a country where those in senior managerial positions earn about US$500 to US$700 (RM1,900 to RM2,660) a month.
“I don’t care about the house and car. My wife, two-year-old daughter and I were not injured in the quake and that is all that matters to me,” he added.
Dr Afshin said his wife and child were now living with his parents in Teheran.
“My parents came to Bam to look for me after they heard about the earthquake. They went to my house and were distraught after seeing the damage.
“They called me on my handphone and were relieved after I told them that we were all safe.
“My parents wanted all of us to go back to Teheran and return when some sort of normal life was restored in Bam.
“I decided to stay to see how I could help,” he added.
Dr Afshin, who admitted that co-ordinating relief work and aid was a problem in Bam, denied that people were not getting enough food or the best care possible under the circumstances.
“They eat the same food relief workers are given (mostly canned baked beans and mushroom and bread).
“The problem is that the survivors, worried about what the future holds for them, are hoarding food and other supplies,” he added.
Dr Afshin said the earthquake committee based in Bam, which was set up to act as a co-ordinating organisation, is also working hard and “looking into all the necessary aspects.”
“President Mohammad Khatami has been flying in and out of Bam to ensure everything is done properly and so have our ministers,” he added.