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 A wide-reaching disaster threatening the lives of two million people in Ahwaz

Public rage is building in the devastated Ahwaz region, with up to two million people reportedly displaced by massive flooding worsened by lack of infrastructure and the Tehran regime’s diversion of the floodwaters.  The people’s anger has increased further after   leaked recordings reportedly exposing horrendous callousness by officials of the  regime’s infamous Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)  quickly went viral; in the recordings, the officials can be heard contemptuously stating that the Ahwazi people can be “buried” so long as the regime’s oil facilities and sugar refineries in the areas are saved. 

The total number killed by drowning or by being shot dead by the IRGC for protesting against the regime’s abuses and policies that have worsened the flooding is not yet known. Although Iran’s regime has attempted to downplay the number of people displaced, the fact that at least 20 cities and towns in the region and the areas, villages and hamlets surrounding them are flooded, with residents ordered to evacuate due to the flooding, means that the minimum number displaced by the flooding is an estimated two million. 

The state-run Fars news agency has reported that the flooding which began two weeks ago has inflicted massive damage and losses in 20 Ahwazi cities so far, as the floodgates on the dams on the Dez and Karkheh rivers being opened, leading to many communities being completely abandoned as residents are forced to evacuate their homes for safety.  The news agency reported that the situation in the cities and villages in the areas downstream on the Karkheh River has worsened steadily, with regime officials now ordering the evacuation of the cities of Hamidiyeh, Khafajiyeh, Howeyzeh, and dozens of villages. The towns of Abu Homeyzeh, Kut-e Seyyed Naim and surrounding villages have been evacuated completely. On Friday night (April 5, 2019), officials in Al Hayi county in the area adjacent to Ahwaz city, and their counterparts in the county of Alvan in the Shawur district of Shush city were also ordered to fully evacuate the area.  Other areas such as Shoaybiyeh near Toster (shushtar) city, Karoon, Al-Basitin, and Rofaye have also been evacuated within 48 hours.

Local activists have reported that other cities, towns and villages in the devastated region, including Arjan (Behbahan), Lali, Gotvand, Izeh, Baghmolk, Hajar Alsabea(Haftgel), Abadan,  Falahiyeh, Ramez(Ramhormoz),  Salihiyeh (Andimeshk), Indica, Bawi, Masjed Soleiman,  Quneitra( Dezful)  and Susa (Shush) have also been severely affected by floods.

The already dilapidated infrastructure in the region, which has suffered from decades of severe deprivation and neglect, despite housing over 95 per cent of the oil and gas reserves claimed by Iran, is overwhelmed and wholly incapable of dealing with the staggering size of the crisis. The magnitude of the disaster is difficult to convey, with footage showing desperate people attempting to reach safety wading waist-deep or even chest-deep among the floodwaters.

The horrendous flooding has been massively exacerbated by the regime’s river-damming and diversion program, which has seen the rivers that once made the area a regional breadbasket dammed at the source with the waters diverted to other ethnically Persian areas, leaving the people without drinking water; ironically, these poorly constructed dams are incapable of holding back the floodwaters that have devastated the already afflicted region.  The dams’ weakness led President Rouhani to order that the floodgates be opened in order to release pressure on the dams, resulting in horrendous flooding downstream, which was intensified by the regime’s shockingly callous decision to block river channels leading to the delta where oil and gas rigs are situated in a bid to protect its revenue-generating oil and gas facilities; instead the waters were diverted onto the already heavily flooded lands of the Ahwazi people. 

The vast network of dams and water pipelines built to divert water from the Ahwazi region to other ethnically Persian areas of Iran had already aroused widespread resentment amongst Ahwazi people, who contemptuously named them the ‘Arab-killer dams’, after thousands of people were forcibly evicted with no hopes of compensation from their homes and lands and whole villages were razed to make way for the massive construction project. Meanwhile areas downstream have seen rivers that were once plied by oceangoing vessels travelling up them via the Gulf reduced to little more than heavily polluted streams, with much of the remaining water that once sustained the region left undrinkable. 

Although local people attempted desperately to prevent the floodwaters reaching their lands and homes by working feverishly to build barriers with sandbags or earth, their efforts were futile, with the floodwaters simply sweeping away everything in their path.     Meanwhile in other areas where people held protests against the regime’s brutal efforts to drive them from their homes, fearing that they might be permanently dispossessed like thousands of other Ahwazis before them, IRGC forces have used tear gas and bullets to disperse the unarmed demonstrators, killing at least two and wounding dozens of others, including women and children. 

Interviewed by Dur Untash Studies Centre, 35-year-old Mohammed Marwani, a resident of one of the flood-stricken areas said, “the Iranian government deliberately let dozens of cities in Ahwaz be submerged under water. We are now facing death empty-handed. We have no aid or food. We don’t have equipment to strengthen the retaining walls. We don’t have drinking water or tents. In addition, the Iranian regime has sent heavily armoured vehicles to open the retaining walls, to let the flood waters into the villages. The people have clashed with the regime forces. We need bags to move soil and strengthen the berms. We need food and potable water”.

The regime has provided no food or other aid to the hundreds of thousands  of traumatized people in the  areas worst affected by flooding, with Ahwazis left reliant on their own community for help once again, as the residents of areas where the flooding has been less severe coming together to  supply whatever foodstuffs and humanitarian aid they can collect to their Ahwazi compatriots.

 Khaled Jalizi, another local farmer who lost all his farmlands and livestock, in tears, said: “Oh my god, all I have now are my clothes, where have we to go? Where have we to get lost? I have nothing, and I am not crying only for my own misery, I am crying for all my fellow farmers whose farmlands, like mine, are ruined. I borrowed money and harvested my cropland. We have no bread to eat. Now I have lost everything. We will starve in poverty. The regime has scheduled an appointment for us with hunger, displacement and death. Now the only thing we want is to survive, but there is no aid from any government agency. We have been left stranded in the water. All our villages are flooded, our children and my wife, like many locals here, have not eaten or drunk for two days. We had to drink from this muddy water, and now our children are suffering from severe diarrhoea and fever.”

An Ahwazi disabled man is trying to fill bags with soil as flood buffers in order to prevent the waters from spreading to his village and his house. The regime has never provided aid or assistance to flood-affected people.

Although the regime has been indifferent to the suffering of the Ahwazi people, it has worked tirelessly to protect the oil and gas facilities around the area of the Al-Azim marshlands near the Gulf delta, instead diverting the floodwaters to farmlands, towns and villages upstream.  

Many Ahwazis believe that whilst the regime itself is not responsible for the heavy rains and other extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change, it will use these to accelerate its ethnic cleansing of the  Ahwazi population from their indigenous homeland in Ahwaz, with regime officials’ calls to move the flood-displaced peoples to Persian regions thousands of miles from Ahwaz intensifying these fears.

Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. You can follow him on his twitter account: https://twitter.com/samireza42

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