LONDON, April 4 (Reuters)
Flooding has caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to Iranian agriculture, an official said on Thursday, as the speaker of parliament questioned whether government funds would be adequate to compensate affected communities and farmers.
About 1,900 cities and villages have been affected by floods and exceptionally heavy rains that began on 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 provided by the government.
Early estimates put flood losses in agriculture sector 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 their losses will be compensated, but the speaker of parliament said on Thursday the new year budget would not suffice to cover the damages. The speaker, Ali Larijani, said the government should seek other resources.
Iran's operating budget is already stretched under a new round of U.S. sanctions on Iranian energy and banking sectors that have halved its oil exports and restricted its access to some revenues abroad.
President Hassan Rouhani, whose critics have accused him of mismanaging the emergency response to the disaster, said on Wednesday the sanctions were also hampering efforts to deliver aid.
The lawmakers have summoned several ministers to parliament on Sunday to explain why preventative measures were not in place to save lives and limit suffering. 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 minimise the damages in oil-rich southwestern Khuzestan province.
Iranian drilling companies and other energy firms have been assisting rescue efforts in flooded areas, notably using their pumps to remove water.
Rising water, mudslides and rockslide have blocked 36 roads across the country. Many flights and trains have also 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 that have lost homes and livelihoods in the floods. ($1 = 0.9963 Swiss francs, 135,000 rials)