Exclusive – Ahwaz Floods: Environment Catastrophe and Demographic Engineering
The floods in Iran, which have raged for more than 30 days, have imposed a stifling “siege” on Arab cities in the southwestern regions of the country, forcing some 500,000 people to leave their homes.
The floods, which have headed south, have left devastation in their wake in the Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Lorestan and Ilam provinces. Interior Ministry figures showed that 24 out of 31 provinces have been affected by the flooding.
“The recent floods are unprecedented... 25 provinces and more than 4,400 villages have been affected,” Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli was quoted as saying in parliament by state news agency IRNA on Sunday.
Fazli said the floods had caused around 350 trillion rials ($2.5 billion) worth of damage.
The European Commission said that 11 million Iranians have been affected and Iranian authorities revealed that 76 people were killed. State television said that the rainfall in the country was unprecedented in 300 years.
A week after the western provinces were struck by floods, President Hassan Rouhani headed to the Ahwaz area to inspect the damage. National Security chief Ali Shamkhani had previously warned that Ahwaz was vulnerable to a “humanitarian catastrophe”, speaking of challenges due to the flooding. The governor of Ahwaz, Gholamreza Shariati, denied these claims.
On Friday, head of the Khomeini Relief Foundation, Parviz Fattah, underscored the severity of the situation in the Arab regions, saying that “this could have been avoided and that the dams authority was mistaken in its estimates.”
Climate experts, meanwhile, dismissed the government’s assertion that the flooding has helped ease the effects of drought in Iran. They instead said that the flooding was a consequence of climate change, warning that more severe floods should be expected in the future. Meteorological Organization chief, Sahar Tajbakhsh, said that 60 to 65 percent Iranian territories were still suffering from drought. The government has ignored these claims, instead insisting that the drought was over.
Moreover, the floods and heavy rain have exposed the harm dam projects have had on the country’s rivers. The projects have also negatively affected the Hawizeh Marshes, which straddles the Iraq border.
The Ministries of Roads and Urban Development and Energy and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) agricultural arm, the Khatam-al Anbiya Construction Headquarters, have all collaborated in setting up dam projects in Iran. Since 1979, ten major dams have been built on the Karun and Karkheh Rivers. Dozens of smaller ones have been constructed to divert river routes and control water levels.
Arab residents of the southwestern region have expressed concern over the authorities’ plans to set up two other dams that could divert waters from Ahwaz to central Iran.
The flooding has exposed the Energy Ministry’s plan to divide the Hawizeh Marshes into several basins to drain the marshes on the Iranian side of the border as part of its efforts to develop the Azadegan oilfield. Activists have launched campaigns in Persian and Arabic against these ambitions. The IRGC and Energy Minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh have denied the plans and sought to contain local anger.
The floods have also heightened concerns over the forced displacement of Arabs in the Ahwaz region. In 2005, hundreds of thousands of Arabs marched in protest against then President Mohammad Khatami’s plans to displace them to other regions and encourage non-Arabs to take up residence in their place.
The area has for years suffered from government negligence, most notably after the end of the Iraqi-Iranian war, where it has yet to recover from the impact of the conflict. The authorities have only sought to reconstruct oil facilities and neglected to revive and improve services.
In addition, since the 1990s, successive governments have sought to implement several major projects aimed at reducing agricultural land owned by Arabs and consequently force them to quit the area.
This year’s floods have revived concerns over displacement when the authorities ordered the evacuation of 12 cities and towns. Official sources said that only some ten percent of the locals heeded this call. Some social media users have also posted recordings of Ahwaz locals, who claimed that authorities deliberately caused the floods in order to displace the population.