GENEVA (Reuters) - Iran’s oil minister on Wednesday urged local oil and gas firms to help with providing aid to victims of severe flooding, as one international aid agency announced extra funds to bolster relief efforts.
At least 26 of Iran’s 31 provinces have been hit by heavy downpours that began on March 19. The flooding - the country’s worst in a decade - has killed 62 people, the head of crisis management at the Iranian Legal Medicine Organization said on Wednesday, according to student news agency ISNA.
A state of emergency was declared in several provinces including oil-rich southwestern Khuzestan, where state news agency IRNA said 70 villages were ordered evacuated on Tuesday.
Iranian drilling companies and other energy firms have been assisting rescue efforts in flooded areas, notably using their pumps to remove water.
But minister Bijan Zanganeh suggested they should do more.
“Along with performing their essential duties, (firms in the sector) should use all of their existing capabilities to help the people and reduce the flood waters,” he said on the ministry’s newsfeed.
Western oil and gas firms have been forced to pull out of Iran since Washington last year reimposed economic sanctions after quitting a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers.
President Hassan Rouhani, whose critics have accused him of mismanaging the emergency response to the disaster, on Wednesday said the sanctions were hampering efforts to deliver aid, echoing comments by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denied that contention on Tuesday, saying Washington was ready to help via the Red Cross and Red Crescent and blaming Iran’s clerical establishment for the scale of the disaster.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said it had released just under 500,000 Swiss francs ($500,000) as cash grants for 3,000 Iranian families that have lost homes and livelihoods in the floods.
“Iran is under water. This is an unprecedented crisis ...The Red Crescent response is massive, and it is growing every day,” said IFRC Middle East and North Africa director Sayed Hashem in a statement.
($1 = 0.9963 Swiss francs)
Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by John Stonestreet