United Nations agencies are organizing assessment missions to the area of central Iran where an earthquake killed and injured hundreds early today, and first staff reports said many villages had been destroyed, bad weather may impede aid efforts and immediate needs included tents, water and food.

In a message of sympathy to the Iranian Government and people, Secretary-General Kofi Annan pledged UN assistance in responding to humanitarian needs.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Tehran, the Iranian capital, said it was in contact with disaster officials, but the Government has not requested international assistance and national authorities are currently handling relief assistance and rescue operations.


But UN agencies in Bam, site of a devastating quake 14 months ago, including the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), have already mobilized assessment missions, OCHA added.

UNICEF spokesman Damien Personnaz told a briefing in Geneva that six staff members had already arrived in the region and that immediate needs included tents, covers, water and food. The team was some 20 kilometres from the epicentre and its members had already seen many destroyed villages and many people standing out in the open.

The weather was very bad with the rains turning the ground into mud which was difficult to pass, he added.