Ahwazi environmental activists are reporting an acceleratingenvironmental catastrophe in the once verdant Hor al Azim marshlands in Ahwaz near the Iraqi border with Iran. Thelatest reports reveal that Iranian authorities recently excavated large areas of land in the marshlands, covering these in thick plastic sheeting to use as open pits for the storage of millions of barrels of oil. This is not only devastating to the areas excavated but is toxic to human and animal life in the wider area, as well as being fatal to the delicate environmental balance in the surrounding marshlands which teemed with aquatic and avian life. Inhalation of the fumes from the open pits is already causing a health crisis, with local people who made their living for generations from fishing and farming in theonce verdant area already developing dreadful skin and eye conditions, as well as severe respiratory problems which have led to death in a number of cases due to the lack of any medical facilities in the area.
Photos taken by local activists on October 26 show the release of millions of barrels of oil into the pits which extend over a vast area, which will in turn destroy the surrounding land and kill off plant and animal life.
The environmentalists’ report states: “After mismanagement by the Ministry of Water and Electricity which resulted in the drying up of the province’s rivers and the Hor AlAzim lagoon itself, the time has now apparently come for the destruction of the local farmlands and natural resources.”
Evidence shows that the ‘Ofogh’ oil company has constructed massive pits in the farmlands to store the leftover oil.
Environmental agency and the department of natural resources in the Ahwaz region have not reacted to thedevastating actions of these oil companies which make massive profits at the expense of destroying the natural environment.
One of the most active oil companies in Hor Al Azim is ‘North Oil’, which operates three rigs in the area. Its previous director, named only as Mr. Khademi, currently represents the cities of Izeh and Baghmaslek in the Iranian parliament.
Other oil companies working in the area are ‘PEDEX’, directly associated with the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which operatesfive oil rigs there, and ‘MelliHafari’ (National Drilling) and ‘Tadbir Energy’which collectively operate a further five rigs. All of these firms are run by consulting companies affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Responsibility for guarding the areas surrounding these projects, all of which are devastating to the surrounding environment, has been given to an extremely well-equipped special security organization (one of 16 such active secretive and unofficial security organizations operating inside Iran), whose heavily armed personnel use the latest model of Toyota trucks.
This is just the latest state-sponsored environmental sabotage in Ahwaz, where the regime’s diversion of the once-lush region’s rivers to Persian areas, have been wreaking havoc, causing ceaseless massive dust storms which in turn lead to potentially fatal respiratory disorders that local medics warn are likely to develop into cancerous diseases due to the heavily polluted atmosphere from the oil excavation taking place in the area. Thousands of Ahwazi Arab citizens have been rushed to hospitals and clinics in recent days suffering from asphyxia and severe breathing problems due to the toxic mixture of dust storms and extreme pollution, with children and the elderly being worst affected.
Although the source of the dust storms which are causing a health crisis is well known, local authorities have been negligent and irresponsible as usual, taking no action to avert the environmental catastrophe which is a grave threat to human and animal life and the natural habitat in the already afflicted region. On Wednesday, the amount of dust particles in Ahwaz’s air was measured to be 1147 micrograms per cubic meter. This amount is about 7 times more than the standard rate which is 150 micrograms per cubic meter.
The current dust storms are so severe that both public and private institutions in the region, including schools and banks, have announced temporary closure while they continue.
The regime’s diversion of the rivers and the subsequent desertification of thousands of acres of once verdant land in Ahwaz has also led to brush fires in the areas around the once-lush wetlands, while increased state logging in the forested areas in Ahwaz has increased the risk of landslides as the soil is weakened by erosion. The result is a catastrophe for the environment, the indigenous Arab people and the natural life of Ahwaz, with all of this taking place in deafening silence from the international community.
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi Arab freelance journalist based in the USA