DIY Disaster Relief

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 25 2012 @ 7:22am

This week the White House opened a window in the sanctions against Iran so that NGOs can more easily offer humanitarian assistance to those affected by the recent earthquakes. But many Iranians, fed up with the lackluster reponse from Iranian authorities, took it upon themselves to collect and transport relief supplies to the area affected by the quakes. As Hannah Kaviani reports, social media was central to the organizing:

Journalists, the majority of them based in Iran, initiated a Facebook group to gather and spread reliable news and information related to the disaster. Many, like independent journalist Sasan Aghaei, headed out to gather on-the-ground reports. "I'm back from two flattened villages in Varzaghan," Aghaei wrote in a message posted on August 12. "All we brought from Tehran was given to people, but it was like a drop in the ocean. We observed today the work of Red Crescent people, transferring the bodies, the wounded and situating homeless people in tents (which are not in very good condition). The main problem now is making water and food available."

??Another Facebook group, Female Equals Male, boasts more than 140,000 "likes." Following the earthquakes, the group encouraged followers to head to blood-donation stations in cities across Iran. The call was answered, with eyewitnesses reporting that people were standing in line well after midnight on the night of the tragedy to help fill depleted blood banks.

Thomas Erdbrink tells the story [NYT] of one of the amateur relief convoys, composed of members of an off-road driving club, who despite some tensions along the way seemed to fulfill their goal:

After hours of driving, occasionally accompanied by wild horses and eagles soaring high above, Pouria [one of the coordinators] and his group handed out everything, from cooking oil to model cars, to desperate villagers and shepherds, most of whom spoke only in the Turkish local dialect. Few had ever met people from the capital. No security forces stopped them, and they were warmly welcomed everywhere. In the afternoon, after they had visited four villages, one woman came to Ida, 27, a clothing designer, thanking her for the new underwear she was given in the morning. "God bless you for coming all the way here," the woman said. "I finally managed to wash myself, and these fresh clothes mean the world to me."

However, as Scott Lucas reports, the regime had a strange way of showing their appreciation:

In recent days, we have noted reports of individuals being arrested in [East Azerbaijan Province], such as children's rights activist Saeed Shirzad. Now the opposition site Kalemeh reports that at least 35 people have been detained. The "crime"? Failing to hand over aid to authorities, including the Revolutionary Guards.