DEVASTATION in the Iranian provinces of Zanjan and Gilan is bringing a humanitarian response from all parts of the world. Aid has been offered and accepted even from the United States and Iraq, high on the enemies list of Iran's fundamentalist rulers. Natural disasters on the scale of the earthquake that hit the Caspian Sea region of Iran last week tend to submerge the shifting political differences among nations and emphasize feelings of concern and loss common to all people. Communities laid waste and families bereaved are cause for compassion and succor wherever they occur.
The government in Tehran has frankly admitted that the damage and injury in the northern provinces far outstrips its ability to respond. Assistance from outside will be crucial in attending to the most basic needs of the quake's survivors. For this reason it's important that the more moderate elements in Iran hold the radicals at bay on the issue of accepting aid. Some extremists have taken the incredibly contradictory view that help from those perceived to be enemies of the Iranian people should be spurned.
Under current circumstances, the true ``enemy'' is any attitude that would keep basic needs from being met.
This earthquake, like earlier ones in Armenia, Mexico, and China, underscores again the world's distance from an equitable distribution of necessities like sturdy shelter and reliable food and water supplies. Major disasters can disrupt even the most advanced of societies. But they are catastrophes of almost unimaginable proportions in the developing world, where reinforced structures and modern equipment are scarce. The need for assistance can extend for years - the rebuilding task left by the Armenian quake of December 1988, for example, has only just begun.
Events like Iran's earthquake must deepen the humanitarian impulse to help, and deepen our prayers to heal the rifts that keep human beings from joining hands for the good of all.