UNITED NATIONS (FinalCall.com) – Top United Nations relief official, Jan Egeland, who heads the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), met with Iranian authorities and the International Red Crescent Society on January 8 in Tehran, Iran’s capital city, to assess the damage from a December 26 earthquake in the ancient city of Bam that measured 6.6 on the Richter Scale.

United Nations (UN) spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters that a special humanitarian fund was established by the world body to cover the costs of urgent needs in Bam, with 30,000 left dead and over 100,000 injured after the earthquake hit. The money would help provide temporary shelter, food, water and sanitation for the next three months, according to Mr. Eckhard.

To date, more than $74 million has been pledged toward the relief efforts in Bam, the spokesman said. According to the UN, field hospitals would remain in the area for a year.


Irish members of the European Union parliament are also due to visit Tehran on January 7 for three days. According to the Irish Times, discussions would proceed along the lines of what the EU may do to continue their help in the quake’s aftermath. The European Commission allocated 2-3 million euros to address the “next” humanitarian needs of the people of Bam.

However, wire services report that the Iranian government rebuffed President George W. Bush’s attempts to send Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole (NC), and a “family member” to Bam to help assess the damage. The U.S. sent planeloads of aid days after the quake, and the Bush administration has relaxed sanctions against Iran for 90 days. Washington is allowing for transfers of money to Iran to help in the quake relief effort.

But an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters, “Now is not the time for such a visit.” He also said that dialogue with Washington was not yet on Iran’s agenda. “Dialogue requires the parties to respect each other–something the Americans have not shown,” the spokesman told the press.

Sources said that Tehran wants the U.S. to end all sanctions and unblock Iranian assets in American banks.

The Bush administration has demanded that Iran give up alleged nuclear weapons programs; end support of Palestinian groups and hand over members of al-Qaeda, which they insist are in Iranian custody.

In other news, a 97-year-old woman was rescued on January 3 from the rubble, where she laid for nine days in her bed. According to the Associated Press, she was protected by an air pocket between the crumbled walls. Sharbanou Mazandarami, who had some food and water with her, said she survived by reciting verses from the Holy Qur’an. She was dehydrated and her legs were locked in a bent position.