February 26, 2021
Sisakht is a deprived city in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province. The people of the city are known for their hard work; they are people who have struggled with poverty and unemployment for years. Life was difficult even before the earthquake that shook the foundations of their homes on Wednesday, February 17, 2021.
At 22:05, a 5.6-magnitude earthquake shook the city, and now, in the cold weather and blocked roads, the residents are looking over the snow-covered terrain waiting for aid to arrive.
The governor of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad has spoken of 80 percent destruction of residential areas in Sisakht. In an interview with Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Hossein Kalantari said 65 villages around Sisakht had been destroyed and that the total number of houses damaged by the quake was about 4,000.
The residents of the area, however, complain about a lack of adequate assistance, the negligence of the authorities and the lack of crisis management in the days after the earthquake. Below is a narrative of a Sasakht citizen about the hardship of life there, and of life in the days after the earthquake.
The citizens of Sisakht say that until February 22, 2021, no aid had arrived, not from the Red Crescent, the military or other relief forces. There has been no help for the people of Sisakht affected by the quake, or for the people of the surrounding villages, and it is only charities in the area that are distributing food and warm clothing to these families.
“We live here,” says Shahamat Rahmani, an Afghan immigrant, pointing to a destroyed building that he and his family called their home. “They have not given us a tent or even a meal. It is so cold that the little boy in our house is now in hospital.”
One of the poor families light a fire in the backyard for warmth. A middle-aged woman wearing traditional local clothing can be seen in front of a house with cracked walls. It looks like it could be life-threatening for anyone staying there. “Everything is under rubble,” the woman says. “We, the displaced people of the mountains and the desert, have not received any help. Nobody cares for us or our fellow citizens.”
Most people in the area suffer from the lack of tents or any kind of shelter on cold nights. The head of the Red Crescent confirmed that 1,800 tents had been distributed to the earthquake victims, along with over 1,200 food packages that should last a month. The organization also confirmed the damage to residential houses.
Citizens, however, say that the tents have been distributed are of the travel and recreational type and are not fit for Sisakht due to the harsh weather conditions.
In addition, the tents are small and can usually accommodate between two and four people. For this reason, large families are forced to spend the night in the destroyed houses and light fires to keep warm — a risky endeavor because the walls and roof of most houses have large cracks and are likely to collapse at any moment.
Many residents say that local and national officials, arriving in expensive cars, visit the area, but do not even get out of the car for a moment to listen to the people’s problems and sorrows.
The residents of Sisakht also talk of the presence of security forces in the region. Several ethnic Yasuji people who helped the people of Sisakht were interrogated by security forces, and they also broke the camera of one the Yasuji activists “Security forces said there was no need to post pictures of the quake victims on social media,” the activist said.
In recent days, local civil society activists and journalists have posted appeals on social media to collect donations from friends and acquaintances to help people affected by the earthquake. According to the activists, accounts collecting these funds were blocked on Monday, February 22 by order of the Sisakht city prosecutor: “After appealing to the court, the owners of the accounts were told that public donations should only be paid to the accounts endorsed by the Red Crescent.”
Residents of quake-hit Sisakht and surrounding villages, however, say the Red Crescent’s warehouses in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province have been closed to them: “The canned food distributed among the people is out of date. People in Sisakht need blankets, electric heaters, food and, most importantly, government funding to build or repair their damaged homes. But so far the amount of aid from government agencies has been minimal.”
“We were sweepers for Sisakht municipality,” four Sisakhti citizens told me.”Because our salaries had not been paid for 10 months and we no longer had any bread to eat, we gathered in front of the Sisakht municipality with other sweepers, but this legitimate request for our rights led to our dismissal from municipality employment and we lost our jobs. Now that our house is ruined, we are more miserable than before. Does anyone hear us?”
According to the Statistical Center of Iran, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province is ranked fifth among Iranian provinces in terms of highest unemployment rates.