US sanctions accused of restricting Iranian flood relief

16 Apr 19

With flood warnings still in place over most of the country, Iran’s supreme leader has authorised allocating $2bn from the country’s sovereign wealth fund to pay for relief.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei freed up $2bn of the fund which is worth roughly $92bn, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute.

Heavy rainfall, which began in the north of the country in March, has led to the deaths of 76 people and caused more than $2.5bn in damage. The floods are reported to have affected 4,400 villages, damaged 14,000km of roads and destroyed more than 700 bridges. More than 200,000 people are living in emergency shelters. The army has been deployed to provide assistance.

Iran’s government has promised compensation to farmers and businesses but the state budget has been severely affected by new US sanctions, affecting its energy, shipping and banking sectors. These have halved oil exports and cut off access to foreign revenues.

The first United States sanctions against Iran were imposed by President Jimmy Carter in November 1979, following the American Embassy siege in Tehran, leading to the freezing $12bn in Iranian assets. Sanctions were eased in 1997 by President Clinton.

In 2018, President Trump re-imposed economic restrictions that had been lifted under the international nuclear agreement made with Iran in 2015 by the US, the UN and the EU. The latest US sanctions have been described by United Nations special rapporteur, Idriss Jazairy, as "unjust and harmful", saying that they will lead to "silent deaths in hospitals”.

Iran has received help in its disaster response from the World Health Organization and UNICEF and countries including France, Germany, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey. But some members of the relief community, including president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, claim that the new economic restrictions are impeding them from sending help to victims.

Iranian officials have accused banks of refusing to transfer donations made by Iranians living abroad and citizens of other countries, fearing US reprisals. And Bahram Qasemi, foreign ministry spokesman said that the “inhumane and cruel approach” of the US has “blocked humanitarian assistance to flood-hit people”.

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