Iranian Red Crescent says US sanctions impeding flood relief

The Iranian Red Crescent complained that US sanctions are impeding the collection of international aid to help its response to disastrous floods.

al-monitor A woman is seen as people shelter at a stadium after flooding in Golestan province, Iran, March 24, 2019. Photo by Tasnim News Agency/via REUTERS.

Apr 1, 2019

Iranian towns and villages have been hit with floods for a second straight week as officials trade accusations over their response efforts. Meanwhile, the Iranian Red Crescent is complaining that US sanctions are impeding aid efforts.

The southwestern province of Lorestan is the latest area to be hit by flooding. Iranians on social media shared videos and pictures from today, April 1, showing homes swept away by the floods, blocks of homes completely immersed in water, and collapsed bridges. One viral video showed a home under water up to its roof. 

Many other Iranian provinces are not out of the clear yet. The Meteorological Organization of Iran warned of more showers, heavy winds, flooding and overflowing rivers in a number of provinces, including Khuzestan, Ilam, Kermanshah, Kordestan and Chaharmahal Bakhtiari. Officials have warned Iranians to not travel in the western and southwestern provinces and to stay away or be alert when traveling in areas experiencing flooding. 

Meanwhile, a top Iranian aid official has complained about the impact of US sanctions on the recovery and aid efforts. Ali Asghar Peyvandi, the head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, said March 30, “Prior to the [reimposition of US] sanctions, we had some Red Crescent accounts connected to SWIFT, and we sought international aid through them. However, at present, these accounts have been sanctioned and there is no possibility for money transfers from other countries,” including the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

"During the [2017] earthquake in Kermanshah," Peyvandi said, "we were forced to use the account of a hospital belonging to the Iranian Red Crescent Society to receive aid from the federation.” He continued, “We’ve written to the federation and the United Nations about the impact of the sanctions on our ability to receive international aid, but we have not received an answer.” He added that as a humanitarian organization involved in disaster relief, the Iranian Red Crescent Society expects to be exempt from US sanctions, but so far they have not received any such exemptions.

According to a Reuters report last week, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement that it was ready to offer aid to Iran, but “challenges caused by unilateral sanctions will affect the UN response and the accountability of UN to deliver the appropriate support.”

In this vein, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif took to Twitter April 1 to slam the claimed impact of sanctions on aid operations, writing “@realDonaldTrump ‘s 'maximum pressure' — flouting UNSC Res 2231 & ICJ ruling — is impeding aid efforts by #IranianRedCrescent to all communities devastated by unprecedented floods.” He added, “Blocked equipment includes relief choppers: This isn't just economic warfare; it's economic TERRORISM.”

President Hassan Rouhani and the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have also traded accusations in the recovery efforts, after the IRGC blew up train tracks in northern Iran to divert the flow of the flooding. Rouhani said that the explosion, which the IRGC took some pride in, had no impact on the flooding situation and simply “transferred water from one area to another.” IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari responded, “If the administration’s organizations would utilize all of their resources and abilities then the transferring of water would happen faster.”

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