Emma Nicholson: Help the Iranians with what they want, not what we want

Share

West or east, we have an absolute moral obligation to help victims of disaster, and the disaster that has befallen Iran in the last few days has been devastating. It is a monumental tragedy for tens of thousands of people. Homes and families have been destroyed. Normal human life is suspended. Local infrastructure in the affected area has collapsed. With no water, sanitation becomes a huge problem, and the spread of disease is as big a threat to life as the earthquake itself.

West or east, we have an absolute moral obligation to help victims of disaster, and the disaster that has befallen Iran in the last few days has been devastating. It is a monumental tragedy for tens of thousands of people. Homes and families have been destroyed. Normal human life is suspended. Local infrastructure in the affected area has collapsed. With no water, sanitation becomes a huge problem, and the spread of disease is as big a threat to life as the earthquake itself.

There is a powerful urge to help, but the big challenge is to do so in a way that doesn't make life even more difficult for those on the receiving end, in a way which doesn't add to the administrative burden.

Iran is one of the most advanced countries in the region. It has been a highly efficient civilisation going back thousands of years - sophisticated, literate and dedicated. The Iranian government may not be popular globally, but it is highly organised and democratically elected within the Islamic code of understanding.

Take women's rights. As a woman who travels to Iran frequently, I am acutely aware of women's rights there, and of course there is always progress to be made. But Iran has the most advanced women's rights in the region, with women numbering more than 50 per cent of those who enter university. You could say that Iran is conducting an Islamic democratic experiment, to see how different ways of life can be not just complementary but united.

Things have moved on since George Bush identified Iran as a member of his "axis of evil". That comment was aimed at Iran's unwillingness to sign up to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which it has now done. In any event, such a view is irrelevant in the context of an earthquake affecting so many people. It is completely proper and desirable that they should receive our aid, and we can be confident that money given to Iran will be wisely spent.

We must be very careful not to send in armies of helpers who automatically think they know best, who are unclear about the culture in Iran, or insensitive to people's attitudes and way of life. It is a measure of the scale of the disaster that the Iranian government should have immediately called for international aid, but it is important to remember to offer the help that the Iranians say they want.

Iran is in a special position in another way, in that it has vast experience of refugees and so of dealing with the movement of displaced and distressed people. It has always had an open-borders policy. There are some 2.5 million refugees in Iran, most of them from Afghanistan and Iraq, although since the fall of Saddam Hussein some Iraqis have been able to go home. Iran's generosity to others makes it all the more imperative that it receives our generosity now.

In any disaster it is essential to support and build on what is still there. In the first instance that means transferring aid in the form of money to the government of the stricken country. Another route is via the United Nations. Key agencies of the UN have played important roles in Iran for decades. And the World Health Organisation needs to be highly proactive - disease control is the key to survival.

Then there is the Iranian Red Crescent movement, one of the finest non-governmental organisations I know, full of wonderful people and vastly experienced in dealing with human tragedies. The AMAR charity (Assisting Marsh Arabs and Refugees) that I founded and am president of has worked with and for people in Iran for more than 10 years. Our aim is to set up a clinic for earthquake victims, which we will staff with local people.

This earthquake has been a bitter blow to the people of Iran. They need our help.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne is a WHO special envoy for peace, health and development. The AMAR Appeal helps refugees in Iran and promotes understanding between European and Islamic civilisations. Cheques can be sent to AMAR, 2 Vincent Street, London SW1,payable to AMAR Appeal.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Assessor

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Sustainability Assessor...

Teaching Assistant

£12000 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Secondary Teaching ...

Year 5/6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The successful applicant w...

Science Teacher

£110 - £150 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: This sch...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

August catch-up: second languages, the secret of love and is it all right to call someone stupid?

John Rentoul
High and mighty: Edinburgh Castle and city skyline  

i Editor's Letter: We're coming to Edinburgh

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?