Acute shortage of water in the rivers exacerbates the suffering of Ahwazis

Water, as the most important need of human life, not only has a major role in the sustenance of ecosystems, but it is also a vital factor in political relations, economic activity, and cultural practice. Research related to water, including exploration, extraction and utilization, maintenance, and sanitation are amongst the world's most important scientific challenges.

In recent years, population growth and industrial development, along with the use of fertilizers in agriculture, has exposed groundwater to contamination from new chemicals; hence the decrease in quality over time.

Al-Ahwaz region in the south and southwest of Iran is one of the worst affected regions by the water crisis – this report aims to detail the environmental and health costs inflicted upon the region and its Arab population.  This is the destiny of thirstiness and drought of a land which used to be so rich in water!

While almost five rivers are flowing in Al-Ahwaz, Ahwazi people are forced to rely on street water vendors for their drinking supply.  These vendors often do not maintain the necessary hygiene for storing and selling water, which has led to serious health implications on the Ahwazi populace.

In a conversation with Mehr News Agency, Hashem Baldy, the Director General for crisis prevention in the Al-Ahwaz Governorate, said:  “the problems of the water crisis in Ahwazi regions as result of drought and the water shortage was expected since 2002 and 2003, with the exception of 2008, in which the region had an increase in rainfall, but after that, we have seen a decline in rainfall across all of the Ahwaz regions.”

The Crop year of 2014 and 2015 had a 34 per cent reverse in gain while we also compiled overall statistics for all the cities in the region.  For example, in Mahshor and Abadan, there was a 51 and 52% reduction in rainfall respectively, and thus the crisis has been acute.  Hashem Baldy said: “the rainfall situation compared to the previous year has seen an alarming decline, with it being scaled down to 51, 56 and 58% in Manshor, Falahiey, and Shosh.”

He added that rainfall this year in the whole Al-Ahwaz region has been declined by 65% compared to the previous crop year.  The region is facing a bleak future due to air and water degradation. For the ongoing crisis to be helped and improve, it requires prompt and broad action to be taken by the government.  This would include stopping water diversion from Karoon and other tributaries; removing the Gotvant embankment dam from the Karoon River, as well as other impractical dams that have directly contributed to the dryness of the Ahwazi wetlands.   

This regime’s biased and shameful actions of diverting water from the Karoon river to the Isfahan province has been carried out despite the World Health Organisation repeatedly placing Ahwaz at the top of the most polluted regions in the world.

The consequences of these policies include a lack of drinking water, water for land irrigation and, subsequently, the spread of serious diseases such as lung and liver disease, and the poisoning of the vulnerable, including children and the elderly, particularly in areas which do not have hospitals or medical centres.  

In addition, the ecological system in Al- Ahwaz, which previously sustained the Arab population, has been devastated.  It used to support hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihood depended on the wetlands, as well as sustaining many types of fish, birds, reptiles, mammals and seasonal migratory birds which have been devastated and are dying out as a direct result of the deliberate policies of the Iran regime in destroying the wetlands. 

This is also exacerbated by the regime's Revolutionary Guards oil drilling and exploration, further destroying the rest of the marsh water and swamps of Al-Ahwaz.

Each year, thousands of Ahwazi lose their lives as a result of this crisis.   In return, the regime, by stealing the water from its main course and pumping it to central Persian regions, has deliberately exacerbated the crisis in line with fulfilling its inhuman ethnic cleansing policies.

The complete dryness of Karkheh River during the last week could possibly trigger a significant environmental, economic and social disaster for the Ahwazi Arab residents of Howeyzeh region who live in and around the river.    This decrease in the proportion of water of Karkheh led to high salinity and caused the death of thousands of fish. The Ahwazi fishermen fear that these factors leading to the large-scaled deaths of fish will result in them losing their sources of livelihood.

 The Head of the Department of Environment said that 70% of the Hor Azim wetland has been entirely dried due to lack of water in Karkheh, which secures the water of the marsh.

Hor Al-Azim wetland with an area of 127 thousand hectares is located in the west of Al-Ahwaz region – it is the only remaining wetland of the great Mesopotamian wetlands and, In terms of biodiversity, has great global importance.

 One-third of it is in Al-Ahwaz while the two-thirds are in Iraq. According to reports, 80% of the water of Karkheh River, which feeds into the wetland, has decreased in the past two years. Meanwhile, Director General of Al-Ahwaz Environmental Department said that the cutting of water entering the wetland of the Hor Al-Azim in recent months caused the lowering of the water level, which then led to the death of fish over the past few days.  According to Tasnim news agency, Jassim Moramzi, the Advisor to the Governor of Ahwaz, was quoted describing the condition of fish in Ahwazi Rivers and wetland as “in a critical situation”.

 In 2008, the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, despite opposition from environmental organizations, granted more than 7 thousand hectares of the wetland for oil exploration to the oil ministry.

At the same time, environmental authorities have stated that drought of the wetland is one of the main reasons for dust formation in the Ahwaz region.  Also, the environmental organization announced in April that more than fifty percent of the Ahwaz wetlands and lakes and rivers dried up or are endangered to dry out with millions of species of fish dying out forever. 

The vegetation of Ahwazi lands has been lost, and the soil reduced to dust and eroded as a consequence of the drying up of rivers, which has in turn created dust bowls on a vast scale unseen before. Furthermore, salt accumulation in the Gotvand dam reservoir is currently estimated at 8.2 million tons.  Since March 2014, salt has been stored behind the dam.  However, the dam was incorrectly built on a slant in the Aanbal Mountains, which has resulted in increased levels of salinated water seeping into the Karoon River.  The dam now added 350 units of salt into the river. 

The adverse effects of which will result in Karoon dying away and leaving the Ahwazi people with an environmental disaster, the river being their primary source of water.  Salinity and lack of water also led to massive losses in palm date products. This year, the region’s production of dates has decreased up to 60 per cent along with the destruction of millions of Palm trees due to water scarcity and other contributed factors, such as water contamination.  Add to this,   a new report published in the Guardian newspaper stress three regions of Kuwait, as well as Karachi in Pakistan, and Ahwaz [occupied Ahwaz] in Iran are currently experiencing the highest temperature in the world, with the unprecedented heat wave, combined with adverse weather conditions, having potentially lethal consequences on the poorest and most vulnerable residents.

 Many locals think the gravity of the crisis will ultimately lead to the destruction of Ahwazi economy, which is entirely dependent on agriculture and animal husbandry in most parts of Ahwaz.

Ahwazi gazelles died as a result of heat waves and water shortages and sheer negligence

The continued policy of drying up the rivers of Ahwaz, especially the Karkheh and Karoon rivers has inflicted significant damage to Ahwazi people and their environment. The outbreak of severe illnesses, including lung and liver disease, as well as the spread of sudden poisoning cases involving children and the elderly, have risen exponentially over the years.

The death toll resulting from these common diseases has been extremely high, mostly due to the lack of hospitals in many parts of Ahwaz and the lack of specialized medical care.  This is exacerbated by the fact that most Ahwazi patients are not financially able to travel to better-resourced Persian regions where they could receive effective medical treatment.

The Iranian regime is also using the ongoing crisis of water scarcity in the Karkheh River as a pretext for preventing the cultivation of rice and corn in the summer.  In the past two decades, the Persian-supremacist Iranian regime built dozens of dams on the major rivers in the north of Ahwaz in order to divert water from the Arab regions to the Persian ones.   It is this racism that is at the root of the crisis currently afflicting Ahwaz. The outcome would be the migration of inhabitants of these areas and the abandonment of their lands, which makes the Iranian regime’s plan to grab the lands and settle Persian settlers there all the more easier.

Most areas in Ahwazi have witnessed sporadic protests, demonstrations, and armed operations in response to these racist policies of the Iranian occupation regime.

 Background on Ahwazi people:

 Ahwazi Arabs, who number more than 10 million, live in poverty and have been subject to South African-style apartheid by the Iranian regime since 1925. Al Ahwaz region holds 15% of oil resources and is home to some of the largest gas reserve in the world. Iran denies the existence of Ahwazi Arabs by calling them "Khuzestani Arabic speakers," aiming to eliminate their proud, unique Arabic identity. Ahwazi Arabs have been denied education in their mother tongue, access to media, subjected to land confiscation and strict employment criteria.  The free practice of their social and cultural activities is often outright banned and/or heavily suppressed.  Thousands of these people are living in dangerous and dilapidated areas and deprived of the essential public health services and at risk of social problems such as drug addiction, prostitution, digestive and skin diseases, and AIDS.  According to official figures, more than half of the rural residents in Ahwaz have been evacuated their villages due to unemployment and drought and have been driven to margins of the big citiesClean water, housing, health, and work are the main demands of these marginalized population.  

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