From Reuters, via the Washington Post, “Ahmadinejad plans exodus to avert quake disaster”:
… Like the people of San Francisco, Tehranis know their sprawling metropolis is due for a massive earthquake. In Iran, where building standards have not advanced as quickly as the population, some estimate millions could be killed or maimed.
In an Islamic society where disasters are often seen as acts of God, Ahmadinejad told housing officials they could no longer rely on the power of prayer to save Tehran from annihilation.
“Tehran has 13 million inhabitants. If an incident happens, how can we manage it? Therefore, Tehran should be evacuated,” said Ahmadinejad, a former mayor of the city, announcing financial aid for people who move to towns with a population of less than 25,000. “At least 5 million people should leave Tehran,” he said.
When the last major earthquake hit, in 1831, Tehran was tiny compared to the metropolis where today the work-day population can reach 15 million. As a huge quake is reckoned to hit the area around every 150 years, seismologists say one is now well overdue.
“If such a thing does happen in Tehran it will be the biggest disaster in humanity,” said Farid Mehdian, who headed a seismic study 10 years ago which gave a conservative estimate that half a million people would die in the next ‘big one’.
Mehdian, an architect, said it would take 100 years and billion of dollars to make Tehran’s buildings earthquake proof, but he does not think the alternative policy — moving the masses out of town — has been properly thought through. “Of course, if the population of Tehran was 3 million it would be easier to manage the risk, but it’s impossible to move the population of Tehran somewhere else.”
One problem is where to move them as most of the inhabited areas of Iran are also in earthquake zones. “By moving them (there) you are just moving their graves,” Mehdian said.
The main obstacle Ahmadinejad will face is persuading Tehranis to leave Iran’s economic, political and cultural heart, independent daily Ettela’at said in an editorial which asked why millions of Iranians had moved to Tehran in the first place.
“For its pollution? Its traffic jams? The impatient and aggressive people? … Wealth and job opportunities are its attractions.”
“The need to reduce Tehran’s population is undeniable but no one will leave his home and his job for 200 square meters of land in a small city and a 10 million-toman (around $10,000) low interest loan,” the newspaper said…
Indicating the government was also aware of this, Ahmadinejad’s first deputy, Mohammad Reza Rahimi, on Saturday announced a plan to relocate some ministries, companies and other organizations to outside Tehran.
It also occurs to me that previous authoritarian societies have tried to deter popular resistance movements by dispersing the critical mass of people and services from large, anonymous capitals into relatively underdeveloped regions where every new face or political meeting would stand out, but maybe I’m just too cynical as a result of growing up in Ankh-Morpork… I mean, NYC.
In the best both-sides-of-every-issue newsmedia tradition, Reuters reports a different opinion on the best way to preserve Tehran:
Leading Friday prayers, the focal point of Iran’s religious week, Ayatollah Kazem Sadighi said better observance of Islamic rules on modesty would help ward off an earthquake. “Those women who dress inappropriately will tempt youngsters and it will finally lead major sins being committed and in that case the wrath of God will be sent upon us,” he said.