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Iran Blames US Sanctions For Hampering Humanitarian Aid As Devastating Floods Force Mass Evacuations

WASHINGTON DC, United States

Iran authorities have ordered the evacuation of more than 70 villages in the country's southwest province of Khuzestan in early April. At least 47 people have been reported killed in the worst rain in Iran in at least 10 years, and there is widespread displacement as floods hit the country.

The northeast Iran province of Golestan received 70 percent of one year’s rainfall in just one day in mid-March

According to Sayed Hashem, Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), “Iran is under water. This is an unprecedented crisis that has now touched at least 23 of Iran’s 31 provinces. While the precise impact is still to be seen, it is already very clear that the floods have caused extensive damage and suffering in villages, cities and rural areas.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the head of the Red Crescent Society in Iran Ali Asghar Peyvandi have suggested that United States sanctions against Iran have hampered humanitarian efforts and aid agencies which have not be able to receive essential aid relief.

US sanctions are alleged to have prevented Iran from getting needed equipment, including helicopters that have been used to rescue residents from flood-stricken areas.

Peyvandi has referred to the sanctions imposed on Iran bank accounts as well as third-party providers: “Prior to the (reimposition of US) sanctions, we had some Red Crescent accounts connected to SWIFT (the Belgium-based funds transfer system), 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 IFRC.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has defended the US position and has blamed the situation on the Iranian government. As reported by Radio Free Europe, “in an April 2 statement, the floods "once again show the level of Iranian regime mismanagement in urban planning and in emergency preparedness."

"The regime blames outside entities when, in fact, it is their mismanagement that has led to this disaster," Pompeo added.

There are mechanisms in place so that the US could fund (and possible release sanctions at least temporarily) in order to facilitate the distribution of badly needed relief in this disaster, but these have not been implemented.

The United Nations has also been hampered in efforts to assist. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement that it was ready to offer help to Iran but "challenges caused by unilateral sanctions will affect the UN response and the accountability of UN to deliver the appropriate support."