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Dying of Thirst in Ahwaz region: Iranian Regime Ecocide Exacerbates Climate Crisis

In its pursuit of oil exploration, Iran has perpetrated ecocide, contributing to its ethnic cleansing campaign against the Ahwazi people, the indigenous Arab people inhabiting Ahwaz, an oil wealthy region in the south and southwestern Iran.

Water supply remains essential for the survival of the Ahwazis, who largely sustain themselves off of agriculture in their lands. In recent years, Iran has built dams, leveraging them as a political weapon to starve the Ahwazis of their pivotal water supply and to coerce their emigration.

While Iran claims these dams are built to preempt winterly floods, they have been used in some areas to flood Ahwazi villages and destroy their crops during winter, and in summer, to starve their water supply. The depopulated Ahwazis have since had to move from their rural communities into Ahwazi urban areas and mainstream Iranian cities, where they become susceptible to marginalisation.

Two months ago, Iran’s Ministry of Energy closed the Karkheh Dam, and thus, the water supply for the Horalazim and Hor al- Azim wetlands. Inevitably, ecological disaster and widespread drought have since ensued. Since, horrific footage has emerged depicting thousands of dead animals, including fish, cattle, and buffalo.

 Water scarcity and fires have been devastating the remaining plant life in the once-verdant marshlands of Ahwaz, with the area’s buffalo dying in vast numbers along with millions of fish. Meanwhile, the region’s human population continues to fall as the remaining farmers and fishermen are forced to abandon their lands and their ancestors’ livelihood to move to rapidly growing ghettoes around the towns and cities in the region. 

 While this spiralling catastrophe can be partially attributed to climate change, the primary cause is the Iranian regime’s massive river-damming and diversion projects which have effectively blocked the flow of the region’s five main rivers that once irrigated the rich alluvial plains, with the waters being redirected to Persian areas of central Iran. The massive reduction in waterflow from the region’s two largest rivers, the Karkheh and Karoon(Karun), has had a devastating effect on Ahwaz, causing widespread desertification and water scarcity that is now making life unbearable, particularly in the southern Ahwazi cities of Abadan, Muhammarah and Falahiyeh.

Now, the reduction in the flow of water from Karkheh river heading toward southwest Ahwazi cities such as Hamidieh, Khafajieh,  Bassitin (Bostan),  Howeyzeh, Rofayyeh and the entire rural area of the long-suffering Arab region is putting the lives of  nearly three million of Ahwazi population in these areas at grave risk, with  52 villages around the Howeyzeh city left completely without any water for several weeks.

In addition to this, the Karkheh river , the leading source for the Howeyezeh and  Hor al-Azim  marshlands, a home to millions of fish, birds and buffalo, along with other species, is largely dried up, with catastrophic effects on the local wildlife in the region, which are dying in vast quantities.

Twelve channels branch out from the Kharkeh, passing through numerous villages before feeding into the Howeyzeh marshland; but now, with the complete suspension of the flow of water from the main Karkheh river, these channels are dried up, with villages that rely on them for water supplies left without drinking water, let alone water for growing staple crops like rice or for feeding to livestock.

The remaining water in the marshlands is stagnant and lifeless due to pollution from the oil and gas refineries’ industrial waste that’s dumped there and to high salinity levels, with no river water from upstream to remedy this ecological disaster.

The numbers of fish, birds and buffalo dying as a result is beyond counting, with many buffalo becoming trapped in the polluted, chemical-laden mud which is all that remains of the marshlands, and dying miserably, unable to free themselves, of thirst and of burns from the searing summer heat, which is so brutal that their skin peels off.   

The Nissan is one of the streams that once branched off the Karkhah river, which passes through Rofayyeh city [bordering Iraq], before flowing finally in the Howeyzeh marshland. The people of Rofayyeh and the surrounding villages, who depended on the Nissan stream for their freshwater requirements, are now facing catastrophe, with no running water available for themselves or their families, let alone their livestock or crops.  Meanwhile, the Howeyzeh and Hor al-Azim marshlands where the local Ahwazis’ ancestors have lived for millennia are rapidly turning to uninhabitable wastelands in front of their eyes, with whole species of local animals, marine life and plants facing complete extinction.

The Hor al-Azim wetland was once a unique ecosystem featuring rare species of birds: greylag goose, marbled duck, accipitriformes (birds of prey), green singing finches, moorhen, etc.

The wetland also included plants like cane and papyrus and benthic plants such as lotus, shoal grass, as well as amomum and wild lettuce. The livestock inhabiting the region, especially the cattle, depend on the wetland’s water for survival. Cattle remain an essential staple for the region’s food as well as the local economy. So do buffalo, whose population has been hit rather hard. Buffalo‘s sweat glands are limited to cool their body and must bathe in wetlands for at least four hours a day. With water diverted from the region, many have died slow painful deaths by dehydration, a process which causes actual skin peeling. As Ahwaz sustained cattle, likewise pigs, smooth-coated otters, and many amphibian animals – a testament to its once ecological importance. Now, however, the populations are effectively no more, a consequence of Iran’s policies.

Assuming no future change in policy, many animals are now condemned to impending regional extinction. The same prospect of regional extinction likewise faces many fish species once common in the region: puffers, common carp, Mesopotamian himri, Leuciscus vorax, acanthodians, catfish and other species. In particular, the Hor al-Azim wetland suffers widespread ecological devastation as a consequence of two phenomena: state-sponsored dam construction and natural resource exploitation.

In 1991, Iran’s Ministry of Energy established Karkheh Dam on the Karkheh river; and in 1997, the ministry dammed the Simra river, one of the major arteries feeding the Karkheh river and its tributaries. Consequently, the wetlands’ water supply disappeared into oblivion.

In 2008, the ministry then appropriated 7,000 hectares of the marshlands for oil extraction. Though the Ministry of Petroleum was supposed to respect corresponding environmental regulations, the ministry neglected. It dried up the marshlands while constructing roads necessary for oil exploration, prompting widespread regional drought.

Hence, the total area of Hor al-Azim   wetland decreased from 64,100 hectares to 29,000 hectares. Since the marshlands have disappeared, agriculture, fishing and livestock production have since become unsustainable.

With no economic prospects in sight, the marshland’s inhabitants have been forced to migrate, leaving behind their villages and homes.

Despite now being largely depopulated, the marshland once hosted many villages, which have now been evacuated. These include Al Dabia, Al Hasja, Al Loulia, Al Amma, Al Kasr, Al Makria, Al Mhiria, Al Sidia, Abu-Kalak, Al Mshimshia, Al Jaraya, Al Tabar, Shatt Ali, Al Zuhairia, Al Borja, Al Bors, Al Kharaba, etc.

The only city to effectively remain is Rofayyeh, whose citizens continue to suffer from drought. On Friday, 2 July, official media outlets announced that the Karkheh Dam would be opened and that water would be delivered to the marshlands. However, activists and environmental experts in Ahwaz who visited the Hor al-Azim wetland on July 2 spare little optimism, testifying as to the enormity of the disaster, and recounting scenes of dead cattle beside the once flourishing marshlands.

They stated: “Unfortunately, there’s no one here in the Hor al-Azim wetland to document how enormous the disaster is. We have walked on our feet for two hours in harsh conditions and a soaring temperature of 50 degrees with the aim of exploring how deep the catastrophe is.”

The activists added, “The official media outlets show the water reaching out to Rofayyeh, 10 kilometres away from this spot where we stand. On official visits, they display the situation in Rofayyeh. But no one goes to Ramim village, the epicenter of the disaster.”

The activists while expressing delight as to water being restored to the marshlands, remain doubtful that the water will reach Basin No. 2, the hotspot of the disaster in Hor al-Azim wetland, which remains dried out.

In effectively drying up the Hor al-Azim   marhsland, Iran has starved Ahwaz and its indigenous population, creating ripe circumstances for dust storms, which expose local inhabitants to aerosol levels 21 times the rates expected via global norms. Rising temperatures have also ensued, as after all, marshlands function as the lungs of earth which preserve humidity. Iran’s deliberate environmental destruction is to blame for the consequent spikes in cancer and lung disease, as well as soaring temperatures now defining Ahwaz.

In an interview with Mehr News Agency, the former head of Shafa Hospital in Ahwaz recently said that 90 per cent of causes of rising various types of cancer diseases among Ahwazi people compared to the past years are due to water air pollution,  and only 10% is due to hereditary reasons.

Only a few years ago, Rofayyeh city was located in the heart of the Hor al-Azim wetlands, famed for their natural beauty and wildlife; the combination of the regime’s upstream river-damming and diversion programme and climate change, which the regime’s policies are exacerbating, means the wetlands are drying up, shrinking and receding, with the nearest marshes now located around five to six kilometres from the city.

The amount of water now available downstream to Rofayyeh and all the other towns and villages along the Kharkheh river following the upstream dam-building and diversion projects is reportedly less than 90 cubic metres, with regime officials rejecting local calls to increase this to an amount that would be sufficient to sustain the local population, feed their livestock and replenish the marshlands.

The village of Jafir in the rural Nissan district is one of the 52 waterless and thirsty villages in this area. A remote village in the southwest of the Ahwaz region, located 55 km from the city of Howeyzeh, Jafir has been effectively turned into a ghost village by the lack of water, with the already impoverished residents left helpless as their livestock and crops wither; many have given up and moved to live in rapidly growing ghettoes around cities in other areas. The remaining villagers who continue to cling on say that the unbearable thirst, hunger and lack of any cause for optimism that the situation might improve may well force them to follow suit.

 Despite their ancestors living there for generations, the wheel of life has stopped turning, with no marshlands, no water for fishing or farming, and the only industry in the region being the oil and gas companies which want Ahwazis’ vast mineral resources but not their presence, refusing to employ the indigenous Ahwazi people.

 The oil and gas companies’ only contribution to the colonised region has been massive pollution and the wrecking of the local wetlands, much of which was ‘reclaimed’ by the companies prospecting operations or simply massively polluted, depriving the remaining Arab population from even hunting for seasonal birds or fishing.

“We have no water,” said Umm Adnan Massoudi, one of Jafir’s few remaining residents, gesturing to the empty water tank next to her house.  She explains that every few days the people of the village beg the surrounding oil companies to at least provide water; in return she says, “they give us untreated, polluted water, which has killed many of our cows and our palm trees.  We also buy purified water from the city for drinking. It is hard; we have to travel every two days to bring water that lasts for two days for drinking.” 

Stretching out her arms, she shows severe burns and rashes on her skin caused by using this toxic, chemical-ridden water provided by the oil companies for bathing.

Umm Adnan adds: “Due to the lack of water, agriculture in this village is no longer possible. Some of the people’s sheep were lost and others were sold because they were going to die.”

The local governor of Jafir, Ali Silawi says, “According to the latest census, this village has 70 families and a population of 350 people,” Despite this significant number, he adds, the local villagers lack even the most basic facilities.

Silawi also noted the prevalence of intestinal diseases and diarrhea among villagers resulting from drinking the polluted water supplied to them, explaining: “The water brought by tanker to the villagers is  not purified and is unsanitary, and this has led to the spread of disease such as Hepatitis A in the village. “

Alvan Sawari, a resident of Rofayyeh who made his living fishing in the wetlands for many years, is now unemployed. He says starkly, “No farm or livestock can survive this situation. In the past, the wetland was our only hope and source of making a living – we were fishing and hunting birds; that’s how we lived. The government, which has not done anything for our educated young people and denies them any employment in the oil companies established in the heart of wetlands, took away our only means of livelihood by polluting the wetlands by discharging their waste into the wetlands, and by drying massive swath of it and now the streams of Karkheh river is dried up, and no water reaches the wetland, and our precious buffalos are dying.”

Sawari blames oil exploration companies for this terrible situation, saying that their construction of numerous roads in the wetlands and drying out of large areas for oil exploration has caused horrendous damage to the region’s ecosystem; “Sometimes, when we go fishing and hunting, we’re shocked at seeing hundreds of birds killed by oil spills, with tons of fish floating in the water with an unbearable stench.”

Sawari wept as he recalled the once-rich natural environment there. “This wetland was the safe home of many birds, fish and animals – we lived on its wealth like our forefathers for hundreds of years, but everything is disappearing – birds like sand-grouses and animals like foxes and cats keep rushing to our villages desperately looking for water to quench their thirst, we share whatever water we have with them by putting water under the shade of the few remaining trees for them, so they can drink.”

Kazem Behdadmanesh, a member of Rofayyeh City Council, is worried for the future. “A big alarm is sounding,” he warns. A new wave of migration is coming to the outskirts of big cities. “As this situation continues, people, especially livestock farmers, will migrate to prevent the loss of their livestock, which will lead to the depopulation of Rofayyeh.”

 Khafajieh’s MP in the Iranian parliament echoed his words, saying, “The people of Ahwaz are facing a far more dangerous situation than the coronavirus crisis.”

He warned of the lethal danger of the water supply crisis to the entire population of Ahwaz, stating: “People in some cities of Ahwaz, such as Howeyzeh and Khafajieh have to stand in queues for hours to buy water – this is considered a disaster.”

The local people of Rofayyeh city said that the number of residents in the city has decreased from a population of 20,000 to only 3,000 in recent years.  They attributed this depopulation to the destruction of farms and the impossibility of maintaining even a subsistence living keeping livestock in the area due to the lack of water in the Nissan stream caused by the regime’s river-damming and diversion programme, the drying up of the wetlands by oil companies, and the catastrophic mismanagement of water resources.  

These dire conditions and the scorching summer temperatures have provided the setting for increasing numbers of fire outbreaks in the dry reeds of the wetland, especially given the presence of highly flammable oil spills.

Citizens of Bassitin(Bostan) and Howeyzeh have reported that the skin of many of their domestic buffaloes is peeling off due to dehydration and the severe summer heat weather, as well as the fires in the wetland, but officials have repeatedly denied this. Finally, it got to the point where local environmental activists got involved and circulated hundreds of distressing photos and interviews with locals who witnessed their livestock dying in agony before their eyes.

“We have not had safe water for two months,” said an elderly woman from the village of   Ramim in Bassitin.    The water we drink now is no different from sewage. Last year our situation was relatively better, but this year they shut off the water from upstream.” 

She added, “The wetland dried up so much that this and the high summer heat caused regular fires,” explaining, “Buffaloes need to spend several hours a day in the water, but now they’re dying due to lack of water, severe heat and fires.”

This tragedy is so vast that it is difficult to find adequate words to describe it.  The five large and small rivers of Karoon, Dez, Zohreh, Karkheh and Jarahi in Ahwaz have either completely dried up or been reduced to a largely useless muddy trickle in most places in a few years. The Hor al-Azim wetland, which is the central section of the large Howeyzeh wetland, has completely dried up in three weeks. Despite the Howeyzeh wetland being very wide, it dried up so much that now it might never be known that it existed. Thousands of creatures, marine life and plants have perished in the past few days alone. The farmers and fishermen whose families have lived in this area for thousands of years farmed crops, were masters of animal husbandry, were the creators of the Elamite civilisation in ancient times, and now in the present day, thanks to manmade greed and mismanagement their heritage is vanishing.

Before the 1979 revolution, there were only two dams on the Karoon river. In the mid-1980s, at the height of the Iran-Iraq war, the then-new Iranian government began building several dams on various rivers in the Ahwaz region. These dams redirected the waters of these rivers, reducing the amount going downstream. Since then, the amount flowing downstream has decreased every year and today it can be said that less than ten percent of the Karoon river’s water flows to the Ahwaz region and the marshlands where the waters flow into the Gulf.

The Karoon, the longest river in Ahwaz, whose source rises in the Zard Kouh mountain, whose waters were once plied by ocean-going vessels, now has no water in the hot seasons of the year. The Dez river, which was once equally vast, dries up after reaching the city of Shushtar city. The Karkheh river dries up before reaching Hamidieh. Very little of this is due to drought or low rainfall. Instead, the so-called Islamic Republic regime has built a vast network of massive dams and pipelines to transfer water from the sources of rivers in the Ahwaz region to the central plateau of Iran.

For the regime in Tehran, one of its most important security and strategic policies has been to try to change the demographic structure in the Ahwaz region in various ways. The forced migration of Ahwazis living on the Iranian border began right after the 1980-88 war, with the mines planted in over 18 Ahwazi villages bordering Iraq deliberately not cleared by the regime even up to the present day more than 30 years later, meaning many Ahwazis were denied the opportunity to return to their lands. Nearly 2,000 villages are now uninhabited.

Climate change, the excessive construction of dams and the resulting water scarcity, an escalation in seizures of land from residents of rural areas in Ahwaz and government confiscation of and encroachment of farmers’ lands under the pretext of requiring it for sugarcane-farming, along with the development of oil fields and the lack of any job opportunities for the owners of these lands, all paved the way for successive waves  of rural migration to the areas around the cities in Ahwaz and to other areas in Iran. This means, for example, that we see a massive marginalised population living in ghettoes on the outskirts of Ahwaz cities, in grinding poverty and with no essential services.

Similarly, the drying up of the Jarahi river, the main source of water to the Falahiyeh marshland and of water for the residents of Falahiyeh city, has led to horrendous water scarcity. As in Rofayyeh, Howayzeh and Hamidieh and Khafajieh, the situation in the city is getting increasingly critical, with what water is available largely undrinkable and residents dependent on bottled water

The city once had a plentiful water supply from the Jarahi river which extends from Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province to the marshlands at the Gulf’s edge, as well as passing through the cities of Behbahan, Ramiz, Khalafiyeh, Falahiyeh and Muhammarah.

For Falahiyeh’s beleaguered residents, already struggling to survive amid escalating poverty, high unemployment and relentless oppression, the lack of water in a city crisscrossed by streams adds insult to injury. The people have no doubt over who’s responsible for this cycle of misery, including the worsening water shortages, with public anger rising along with the temperatures at the regime which left them in this hopeless situation.

The Jarahi river was the life-blood of Falahiyeh, with its veins formed by the streams that branched off, running past homes and watering the palm trees that provided welcome shade.

For centuries, if not millennia, Falahiyeh’s local residents made their living from agriculture, growing date palms and other crops, as well as hunting and breeding livestock. Up to 90 per cent of the local population worked in the agricultural sector. Since 1997 and the opening of the Marun Dam upstream, whose gates are rarely opened to release anything more than a trickle of water for the region’s peoples, the river has dried up, triggering tragedy for this ancient city

The incalculable damage done by this deliberate drying up of the Jarahi includes not only the disruption to agriculture, fisheries, and robbing most of the city’s population of their livelihoods, but destroying the local environment and causing widespread desertification in surrounding villages.

A report issued recently by local environmental activists gives some idea of the scale of this devastation, revealing that in recent years three million palm trees in the areas of Jarahi and Falahiyeh have perished due to drought, leaving farmers facing destitution. 

Residents of Abodi, Salemi, Kharoosi, Nasseri, Kaidari, Shawli and more than five other villages in the area around the Falahiyeh’s city are suffering from severe drought. With almost 95% of the city’s residents reliant on agriculture, livestock-farming, fishing and other livelihoods dependent on a water supply, the future looks bleak. 

Adding insult to injury, what water there is in the area goes to the loss-making state-owned sugarcane farming and refining complex upstream, which uses the river’s remaining precious water in the refining process before returning the discharge from the refining process, including the toxic chemicals used, directly into the water supply feeding Falahiyeh and the marshland downstream.

Nearly one billion cubic metre of this chemically poisonous sugar cane refining waste is discharged into the Falahiyeh marshland, leading to steadily rising levels of salinity and pollution in the ecologically delicate marshland.  Although it once sustained fishing, farming and breeding of livestock, the marshland is now increasingly poisoned, lifeless and unliveable, with environmental authority officials announcing that the polluted water is now greater than the clean water in the marshland, threatening the ecosystem, the marine life and the people’s lives, with the fish that’s a staple part of the local people’s diet being contaminated with dangerous substances due to the poisons and waste from the network of sugar cane farms and wastewater, as well as other industries which discharge untreated waste directly into the river and thus into the marshland.

Over 100,000 Ahwazi people are dependent on the waters and marshlands of Falahiyeh for their livelihoods; it seems, however, that these marshlands, protected and beloved by generations of Ahwazis, which are home to hundreds of species of birds, fish and animals, are on the brink of desertification, causing humanitarian and ecological catastrophe.

Today, the people Falahiyeh, like others across Ahwaz, are suffering thirst, drought and chemical poisoning causing widespread severe health problems such as liver and intestine cancer, along with deterioration of their economic, social and environmental situation.  The tragedy facing Ahwaz affects every area of life, while the world remains silent and indifferent to the Iranian regime’s crimes causing this unimaginable suffering.

Attorney, researcher and analyst Aaron Eitan Meyer commented that “the use of ecological damage as a means of conducting warfare dates back to ancient times, long before the term ‘scorched earth’ was coined. It is no coincidence that the Torah and Quran both admonish believers to refrain from destroying fruit trees in particular, even during warfare. However, clearly, in the world in which we live, more is necessary. I am encouraged to see the Stop Ecocide Foundation’s working definition of ecocide: ‘For the purpose of this Statute, “ecocide” means unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.’ “Still, I must caution that condemning the Iranian regime for ecocide does not leave the regime off the hook for weaponising ecological warfare against the Ahwazi people. As my colleague and friend Rahim Hamid and I have previously analysed, the crime of genocide already includes ‘deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part’. Thus, the regime’s wanton and wilful destruction of the Ahwazi region’s ecosystem constitutes genocide and ecocide alike. Under any interpretation of international law, it must be condemned and called to account for these heinous crimes.”

Irina Tsukerman, a New-York based international human rights lawyer, explained that the international legal experts are proposing “ecocide” to be included as a new crime under the purview of the International Criminal Court.

The definition, she says, is as follows: “Ecocide would fall under article 8 of terrorism laws. For the purpose of the statute, “ecocide” means unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.”

This means that nature and related entities, if the definition is adopted, would be considered distinct legal entities with specific international legal protection. But would such statutes be enforceable against countries, where human rights do not matter and have not thus far invited legal and political accountability? Iran’s actions, under this definition, would certainly fall well within the premise of the definition. For instance, Tehran was accused, for the first time, of committing an act of “environmental terrorism” over what appeared to be a deliberate and damaging oil spill in the waters with the aim of damaging the environment of its enemies in the region.

Iran’s allowing the Ahwazi rivers and marshlands to dry up with wanton disregard and indifference to the fauna and flora, too, appear to meet this definition. Moreover, Iran’s damming up of the rivers created massive drought that affects not only the Ahwaz region but nearby countries, such as Iraq.

The reason for this legal measure being discussed is the growing concern by the international legal community that not enough is being done to address climate and environmental issues, including acts of recklessness and negligence by state actors. Reports about Iran’s mishandling of ecological issues are nothing new, noted Irina Tsukerman, underscoring that many environmentalists, particularly from Ahwaz, have been documenting the destructive actions by the regime for decades.

However, until now, there appeared to be no possibility of holding Iran accountable for the desecration of its environment, except in the court of public opinion which had been oddly quiet. Still, sceptics counter, that creating new “crimes” amounts to nothing more than virtue signalling, and unless member states adopt this crime within their own system, few crimes of that sort are ever likely to be punished.

Moreover, Iran, one of the world’s leading human rights violators, is regularly selected for prestigious political committees in international organisations such as the United Nations. On the other hand, ICC has been frequently criticised for being politicised, one-sided, and corrupt, ignoring many international law violations with some countries while unfairly scrutinising others.

It’s unclear, said Irina Tsukerman, what, if anything, will change as a result of this measure being adopted in practical terms. Iran is not likely to allow ICC prosecutors to investigate these allegations, much less to submit to authorities of other powers. In the past, Iran has had a wide-ranging reaction to the ICC, embracing its authority whenever it suited the regime’s agenda and being openly defiant otherwise.

This instance will be no different; if Iran is uncooperative, few will challenge the status quo to assert universal jurisdiction over its officials and detain them abroad to be brought for investigations or trials under the Court. Still, the measure would not lack all utility, as the accusation of being engaged in these crimes would cost Iran additional credibility in the international community, potentially costing it opportunities to attend particular events or take parts in prestigious international gatherings.

Any erasure of the Islamic Republic’s credibility is a net positive and should be pursued by any means, concluded Irina Tsukerman. This measure of adopting Ecocide may be symbolic at the current juncture but could be a useful tool to environmentally-minded prosecutors in individual member states wishing to put pressure on Iranian officials or to cause the country embarrassment over its exceptionally poor record. However, it remains to be seen whether that first step will ever be taken, much less result in tangible applications.


The impacts of the marshlands’ drying up, water pollution, desertification and dust storms have taken a heavy toll on all forms of wildlife and marine life. The effects on the region’s people have been equally devastating, bringing poverty as the sources of income are lost, disease due to pollution and dust storms, and mass displacement as many have been forced to flee their ancestral lands just to survive. The civilisation and culture of the people of the marshlands area, which date back millennia, are being steadily driven into extinction, along with fish, birds, animals and plant life.

Migration from the Ahwaz region to other regions in Iran is one of the serious social factors that threaten Ahwaz because of Iran’s policy to drain water sources such as rivers and wetlands. Professor of Geopolitics at Kharazmi University in Tehran, Murad Kaviani, said that “the transfer of water from Ahwaz caused the migration of the people of this province towards the central regions such as Tehran, Karaj, Qazvin and the coastal cities overlooking the Caspian Sea.” 

Kaviani told ISNA News Agency that “the issue of climate change in Iran has manifested itself in two ways, one is the decrease in rainfall, and the other is the increase in temperatures.” He added that this caused the transfer of water from Ahwaz to the central regions during this period, and thus Ahwaz was affected due to the drying up of water resources.

Iran’s deliberately inflicted drought on the Ahwazi rivers and wetlands is an environmental disaster, a manmade crime likely to further its policies of ethnic cleansing against its local indigenous Arab population.The consequences of its actions, while reportedly locally, are expected to plague the rest of the Middle East. Will anyone hold Iran accountable?

By Rahim Hamid

Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist, and human rights advocate. He tweets under @Samireza42.

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