Since it struck on Sunday night, there have been numerous reports on the 7.3 magnitude earthquake near the Iran-Iraq border, which indicate that it is the deadliest earthquake this year. As of Monday evening, official figures from inside Iran indicated that 413 deaths had been confirmed, while more than 7,000 people had been injured. Furthermore, some relief agencies were indicating that an additional 70,000 people had been displaced and were in need of shelter.
In a statement, National Council of Resistance of Iran President Maryam Rajavi appealed to civilians in affected areas to undertake relief efforts, on the assumption that the government response would be sluggish or inadequate. The resistance leader said that the public distress in the wake of such natural disasters tends to be made worse by the government’s tendency of “dragging its feet and dodging its responsibility in saving the lives of people.”
Meanwhile, IranWire issued a video report in the wake of the disaster focusing on the mutual failure of the Iranian regime and the private sector to address the threat of devastating earthquakes before they happen. Reports indicated that numerous buildings in western Iran had collapsed, and IranWire suggested that this was as much the result of shoddy building construction as the power of the earthquake itself.
As a BBC report on the disaster made clear, strong earthquakes are a familiar problem in Iran, with a total of 16 having been recorded in 2016 and 19 in 2015. Although Sundays was the most devastating, it was only the sixth quake with a magnitude over 7.0 this year. Previous disasters have resulted in an even greater loss of life and property, including a 6.6 magnitude in 2003 that destroyed the historic city of Bam and killed 26,000 people.
Despite this history, the Iranian government continually fails to impose or enforce the sorts of building standards that would make structures far less likely to collapse completely. IranWire attributes this problem in large part to the prevalence of corruption in the Iranian construction industry, and to cost-cutting among builders throughout the country. The video report also notes that with the capital city of Tehran growing at a rapid pace, the lack of adequate standards contributes to the threat of an incomparably catastrophic earthquake at some point in the future.
The report also alleges that “everybody knows” about the issue of inadequate building standards, even though nobody appears to be doing anything about it. This inaction can easily be blamed on the close relationships – and sometimes total lack of separation – between Iranian government institutions and private sector enterprises, particularly construction firms.
The largest construction company in Iran, Khatam al-Anbia, is reportedly wholly owned and operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. What’s more, the NCRI has issued a number of reports to indicate that more than half of the Iranian gross domestic product is controlled by the IRGC, either directly or through an array of front companies. This allows for the systematic misappropriation of funds by the hardline paramilitary, which is perpetually engaged in a variety of foreign conflicts and domestic crackdowns.
NCRI reports have also explained that the IRGC’s corrupt influence over commerce and construction is a product of so-called “privatization” strategies in the Islamic Republic. In fact, these measures have only shifted control of acknowledged state resources into the supposedly private hands of IRGC-linked entities. Being accountable only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the IRGC is unlikely to face challenges from other state structures such as the parliament over the standards it applies in building construction and other projects. Barring diminished IRGC influence over the “private sector” or a direct order from Khamenei, there seems to be very little chance that major Iranian construction companies will feel compelled to alter their practices even in the wake of this latest disaster.
Meanwhile, to the extent that Tehran lives up to the NCRI’s expectation of an inadequate response to the crisis, this will be largely attributable to the Revolutionary Guards as well. Al Jazeera reported on Monday that the paramilitary organization’s broad authority over Iranian society had also made it the sole overseer of relief efforts in the devastated province of Kermanshah.