By Sebastian Moronta, Staff Writer
Earlier this month, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake centered outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja devastated the region along the Iraq/Iran border. The latest estimates place the death toll at over 530, while thousands were injured. The tremor was felt as far away as the Mediterranean Sea.
The brunt of the damage affected Iran’s Kermanshah province, a rural, mountainous region inhabited almost entirely by farmers not far from the Iraq/Iran border. The region is situated on the fault line between the Eurasian and Arabian tectonic plates, extending through western Iran and northeastern Iraq. As a result, earthquakes in this region are very common, often with as little as days between quakes.
It is estimated that 70,000 people in the region are in need of shelter after the damage sustained to the mostly mud brick homes in the Kurdish mountains. The earthquake triggered major landslides, cutting off many roadways and making rescue efforts far more difficult.
Foreign aid has come from several neighbors in the region. Turkey offered 92 rescue personnel and 7,000 blankets through its Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, and Italy sent 12 tons of blankets, tents, and mobile kitchens in the days following the quake.
Italy’s Foreign Ministry said they are working on a financial aid package for Iran to be funneled through the Red Crescent, a relief organization working on the ground.
There has also been an outpouring of support and donations from Facebook fundraisers by private citizens, but support from the United States is complicated by its comprehensive trade embargo with Iran.
Currently, the embargo prohibits Americans from sending funds directly to Iranian charities without a license from the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets control, making those Facebook fundraisers technically illegal.
This doesn’t mean that group organizers will be penalized, as Tyler Cullis, associate attorney at Ferrari & Associates P.C. told thinkprogress.org. “It wouldn’t be a good look for OFAC to start issuing administrative subpoenas for people seeking relief efforts,” Cullis said. However, the sanctions have left few banks willing to risk processing the donations, slowing relief efforts considerably.
That has not stopped those from Iran and abroad from doing their part. Olympic weightlifting champion Kianoush Rostami put his gold medal up for auction, claiming that the medal belonged to the Iranian people, and that this way he was returning it to them.
Earthquakes have devastated the region in the past, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 that leveled the city of Bam, Iran, killing between 25,000-40,000 and injuring many more. These quakes will continue to occur as the Arabian plate continues to push up against the Eurasian plate, at varying levels of intensity.