The Iraqi Kurdish city of Darbandikhan has become a metropolis of tents. Darbandikhan, south-east of the city of Sulaymaniyah, was the town worst affected by an earthquake measuring around 7.2 on the Richter scale, that hit the area near the Iraq-Iran border on December 12 last year.
There were also a number of aftershocks. In fact Jwan Naji, 42, has not slept in her house since then. The local woman, who works in the education sector, says that her home was damaged and nearly all the walls have cracks in them now. She has erected a large tent next to the damaged building and is now sharing that canvas accommodation with three other families.
We only have one bulldozer and one truck and we cannot do everything we need to do.
“Living in a tent has a big impact on our work,” she told NIQASH. “Even our children are having problems because we’re living in a tent.”
According to official figures from Darbandikhan authorities, the earthquake damaged more than 2,000 houses out of the 10,000 in the town and many of them have collapsed. Four locals were also killed. Damages worth around IQD21 billion (US417 million) have been inflicted.
The Darbandikhan district mayor says property in villages surrounding the city has also been damaged in the earthquake and around 550 head of livestock died.
Now most of the city’s streets boast at least one or two tents, many of which have come from charitable or civil society organisations. Other families have bought their own tents and some have even constructed temporary homes themselves, with cane, iron bars and nylon sheeting.
For now, it seems tents are the only option for many here. Members of the Union of Kurdistan Engineers have been to Darbandikhan to advise locals on rebuilding or repairs.
“We tried to give people instructions on how to repair their houses at a lower cost,” says the head of Union, Mohamed Raouf.
It is not only ordinary citizens who are suffering because of the earthquake. Several health centres have become unusable and two schools have completely suspended classes; 17 other schools have suffered damages. The art school here has also stopped courses. Additionally, water and power are functioning at a much-reduced capacity.
Government departments have also been forced to set up inside tents. The police and their prisoners are all sleeping in a tent erected outside the official police department because of fears of the collapse of the building and worries that another earthquake might strike. There are concerns that if this happens the prisoners could escape.
The mayor of Darbandikhan, Naseh Hasan, says there has not been enough support given the scale of damage in the city. “It should have been classified as a disaster zone because the damage is far beyond the capacities of the city’s administration,” he told NIQASH. “We have been asking the relevant Iraqi government agencies and the authorities in Sulaymaniyah province to help us because we don’t have the necessary systems in place to help those affected. We only have one bulldozer and one truck and we cannot do everything we need to do.”
During NIQASH’s visit, a group of locals had gathered outside the mayor’s office to add to those complaints. They also said that they believed the tents were not being distributed equitably.
The Turkish Red Crescent reports that it sent more than 4,000 tents to the Kurdish region after the earthquake but mayor Hasan says that the organization, working together with the Iraqi Red Crescent, “has only distributed about 110 tents. Only 512 tents have arrived in Darbandikhan from all sources,” he added. “Obviously that is not enough and local people are becoming angry with the authorities’ responses.”
The prime minister of the Iraqi Kurdish region has been to visit Darbandikhan, as has his deputy and their government, as well as the federal government in Baghdad, has promised a sizeable budget for repairs and rebuilding. For the time being though, the people of the city must wait for those pledges to be honoured – and many must do so under a canvas roof.