LONDON (Reuters) - Flooding has caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to Iranian agriculture, an official said on Thursday, as the parliament speaker questioned whether government funds would be adequate to compensate communities and farmers.
About 1,900 cities and villages have been affected by floods and exceptionally heavy rains since March 19.
The disaster, which has so far killed 62 people, has left aid agencies struggling to cope and seen 86,000 people moved to emergency shelters.
Early estimates put agriculture sector losses at 47 trillion rials (about $350 million), the head of the Agriculture Ministry’s crisis management, Mohammad Mousavi was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA based on the unofficial exchange rate of 135,000 rials to a dollar.
The government has assured citizens, and especially flood-affected farmers, that all losses will be compensated.
But the speaker of parliament, Ali Larijani, said on Thursday the new year budget would not suffice to cover the damages and the government should seek other resources.
Iran’s operating budget is already stretched under U.S. sanctions on energy and banking sectors that have halved its oil exports and restricted access to some revenues abroad.
President Hassan Rouhani, whom critics have accused of mismanaging the response to the disaster, said on Wednesday the sanctions were also hampering aid efforts.
The lawmakers have summoned several ministers to parliament on Sunday to explain why preventative measures were not in place. At least 26 of Iran’s 31 provinces have been affected.
As waters continue to submerge villages, the government said it had deployed more mobile medical units to southern provinces. Around 1,000 people have been airlifted by emergency helicopters to safety in recent days.
The head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards reiterated that the forces “were using all their power” to minimize damages in oil-rich southwestern Khuzestan province. Iranian drilling companies and other energy firms have been assisting rescue efforts in flooded areas, using pumps to remove water.
Rising water, mudslides and rockslide have blocked 36 roads across the country. Many flights and trains have been affected.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has released around 500,000 Swiss francs ($500,000) as cash grants for 3,000 Iranian families who have lost homes and livelihoods in the floods.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized Tehran’s handling of the crisis on Tuesday, saying the “floods once again show the level of Iranian regime mismanagement in urban planning and in emergency preparedness.”
Iranian Foreign Minister snapped back on Thursday, calling his comments “unprofessional, interventionist and demagogic”.
“Apparently Mr. Pompeo has forgotten that the U.S. federal government itself has shown to be incapable of providing sufficient relief in many regions affected by natural disasters, which have claimed the lives of thousands of Americans,” he tweeted.
($1 = 0.9963 Swiss francs, 135,000 rials)
Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by William Maclean and Andrew Cawthorne