By Syed Zafar Mehdi

‘Women and children have suffered the most in devastating floods of Iran’

May 13, 2019 - 21:18

TEHRAN - Iran was recently hit by devastating floods, which claimed more than 70 lives and left trails of destruction in many parts of the country. Some of the worst hit provinces include Golestan, Khuzestan, and Lorestan. In the absence of international assistance due to the U.S. sanctions, many Iranian organisations have come forward to provide help and assistance to flood victims. 

One of them is Family Health Association of Iran (FHAI), a full member of International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), established in 1995. FHAI has been providing life-saving Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services through health clinics and mobile vans in the flood-affected areas of Golestan province.
In an interview with Tehran Times, Zahra Fathi, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of FHAI, spoke in detail about her organisation’s work in flood-affected areas of

Golestan in close collaboration with Iranian Red Crescent society and the government of Iran. 

Following are the excerpts:

Q. How is the flood situation now in Golestan and other provinces? Has the water level receded?

A. Iran has been continuously hit by heavy rainfall for one month that has led to flooding in many provinces, affecting more than 2,000 cities and villages across the country. This emergency is considered to be the most devastating in 15 years. The floods have affected more than 10 million people, killing at least 78, and injuring around 1,200. It has also left 2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Across all affected provinces, 54,000 houses have been destroyed, another 90,000 damaged. Damage to crops and livestock has affected the livelihood of farmers.  

The situation in north-eastern provinces of Mazandaran and Golestan is stabilizing, as flood waters have receded and rehabilitation operations are in full swing. Displaced people are returning to their homes, after the inspection by officials. Markets are also open now.

However, due to the severity of floods, various health centres have been affected and remain dysfunctional. The healthcare facilities are facing issues related to medical equipment which are no longer usable, medicines have been washed away and cold chain storage have been ruined completely. Despite some distribution of essential relief items, people are in great need of assistance to meet their basic needs, and health care is one of them. 

Q. How has your organisation helped the people affected by floods? Why did you focus on Golestan? 

A. The Family Health Association of Iran (FHAI) is involved in humanitarian response to the flooding in Golestan province. The floods, caused by heavy rains which started on 19th March, affected ten cities in northeast Iran and displaced over 60,000 people. 

FHAI is targeting populations inside and outside displacement camps with awareness sessions and the provision of quality life-saving Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services through static health clinics and mobile vans, which are equipped to provide vital SRH services including gynaecological and obstetrics services. For that, FHAI is partnering with Iranian Red Crescent society (IRCS) and the government of Iran. 

Q. Do you think women and children have been affected most by this unprecedented deluge?

A. Women and children have suffered most in the devastating floods that swept through the country. Women are often left alone in taking care of their families. They have to endure tremendous pressure in circumstances where they have little or no access to water, health care and medical treatment. Displaced women are subjected to greater violence when they have no shelters. Women often suffer psychological harms while they lack any form of support, despite loss of their family members, homes and other properties. 

According to information based on statistics provided by the government, at least 20 women and girl children have died in the devastating floods throughout Iran. No exact figures have been announced yet. The floods have caused heavy infrastructure damage, so there will be a need for redevelopment of homes, schools, hospitals, roads, bridges that have been either demolished or damaged. 

The need for basic amenities like medical supplies, drinking water, food and proper sanitation is critical in order to avoid outbreak of any diseases. Several people who have been directly affected are in need of rehabilitation facilities.

Some affected women who had reproductive health needs initially said that they just received reproductive health services but after the mobile clinics were pressed into service in flood affected areas, they have the chance to receive both consulting services and reproductive health services from medical doctor, psychologist and midwife.

Q. How are you coordinating with Iranian Red Crescent Society in providing assistance to people, especially women?

A. We are partnering with Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) by using their health service providers to disseminate information on reproductive health and reaching out to the affected communities. Also the colleagues from IRCS are supporting us in distributing dignity kits to the women and girls from flood affected communities. 

We started the project with the kind support of Dr. Masoumeh Ebtekar, vice president for women and family affairs. We are also working closely with the Mehrafarin Javanan NGO, deputy governor of Golestan, general director of social and cultural affairs of Golestan, general director of women and family affairs in Golestan, director of health centre of Gonbad-Kavoos district, state welfare organization of Gonbad-Kavoos district, and community of medics. 

Also support from Humanitarian Hub and South Asia Regional Office (SARO) has helped in meeting the SRH needs of affected population through direct service delivery by their medical health mobile clinics, distribution of dignity and clean delivery kits, referrals, community awareness and coordination.

Q. Do you think the disaster could have been averted? What should be done now?

A. Not sure if the disaster could have been averted, however, the country would need to be better prepared for erratic climate conditions and crisis such as these to deal with the health delivery systems. The health service providers and other primary relief and responders need to be trained on providing or linking reproductive health services to women and girls who are in need of these services in crisis situations. Also, the community would need to be better prepared with regards to early warning systems, evacuation channels, medicines and supplies and also community disaster risk reduction strategies around gender and reproductive health. 

One of the issues that has made delivery of health services in rural and urban regions hard is that the floods hit at least 26 of 31 provinces in short period of time, which made the allocation of resources and equipment difficult. Providing services in 26 provinces meant that the health centres faced lack of equipment, materials, and human resources. 

Q. Could you tell us briefly about your organisation and work you do in Iran? 

A. The Family Health Association of Iran (FHAI) was established in 1995. It is a full member of IPPF, and holds special consultative status with UN-ECOSOC. FHAI has always played a leading role in providing SRH services in Iran, especially for the marginalized groups and during crisis situations. FHA Iran primary focus is on the provision of information, and on the mobilization of support among the public, the media, and religious and political leaders for family planning and a cohesive strategy for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). It engages in both qualitative and quantitative research projects to further this end, with a particular emphasis on promoting the sexual and reproductive health (SRH) needs of young people and adolescents. 

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