Ahmadinejad’s ‘kindness housing’ under scrutiny
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani launched an investigation yesterday into why government housing built by his hard-line predecessor collapsed while others withstood a powerful earthquake near the border with Iraq.
In the Kurdish town of Sarpol-e-Zahab, rebuilt in the decades since the 1980s war with Iraq, the outer walls of apartment complexes tumbled away in the magnitude-7.3 earthquake Sunday night.
The housing was built as a part of the “mehr” or “kindness” project of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In the town, homeless survivors wept outside, while others angrily showed the destruction from the quake.
“Other buildings near our apartment are not damaged as much because they were built privately,” said Ferdows Shahbazi, 42, who lived in one of the mehr buildings. “This is ‘kindness’ as the name suggests very well,”
Rescuers used backhoes to dig into fallen buildings, home to more than half of the dead.
The apartment complexes sit next to lush pastures in the almost entirely Kurdish province of Kermanshah, nestled in the Zagros Mountains along the border with Iraq.
The quake badly damaged Sarpol-e-Zahab hospital, forcing the army to set up clinics.
About 530 people were killed in Iran and 7,817 injured.
The quake hit about 30 kilometres outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja, the US Geological Survey said, and struck 23 kilometres below the surface. Seven people were killed in Iraq and 535 were injured, all in the country’s northern Kurdish region.
The disparity in the tolls has drawn questions from Iranians, especially because so much of Sarpol-e-Zahab was new.
The quake destroyed 12,000 apartments and free-standing homes, and damaged another 15,000.
Some point to the mehr homes. About 2 million units were built in Iran as part of the populist programme by Mr Ahmadinejad, who also offered cash payouts and other incentives to appease the public while Iran faced crippling economic sanctions over its nuclear programme.
But after the housing was built, some did not have paved roads or water going to them.
Mr Ahmadinejad’s channel on messaging app Telegram called the accusations “media slander” and said those who circulated photos and videos of damaged mehr homes were “clumsy charlatans”.
In May, a magnitude 5.7 quake in the north-eastern city of Bojnourd heavily damaged similar mehr projects there.
In Sarpol-e-Zahab, Mr Rouhani said that the government would look into what went wrong at the mehr homes, some of which his administration handed over.
He promised cash payments and loans to those affected to build new homes and urged officials to be generous with disaster relief.