Large numbers of Ahwazis displaced by the terrible floods across the Ahwaz region protested on Tuesday. The demonstrators, who held up heart-rending placards, pleading for food, medicine and humanitarian aid from the international community, explained that regime forces have been stealing the aid provided and selling it in non-Ahwazi areas where there is no flooding and thus no need for aid, even while over 1.5 million Ahwazis are left without shelter, food or medicine even while the flooding continues.
The protesters also urged international media and human rights organisations to provide coverage of their suffering and show the real reason behind the floods, explaining that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps built massive berms to divert the floodwaters to Ahwazi residential areas and farmlands in order to protect the lucrative oil and gas facilities in the area around the delta opening into the Gulf. In other words, residents say, the regime is deliberately endangering the lives of millions of Ahwazis, leaving them homeless without food or shelter in order to protect its income from the oil and gas facilities; although over 95 per cent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran are located in Ahwaz, the indigenous Ahwazi people there live in abject poverty, with the flooding further exacerbating their existing suffering.
Regime officials have ignored the pleas of Ahwaz residents to stop redirecting the floodwaters, with whole rural and urban areas now submerged underwater and thousands of acres of crops destroyed. The region’s dilapidated infrastructure means that raw sewage is also mixing with the floodwaters, increasing the risk of disease among the displaced people. Even when the waters eventually subside, many have no idea how they will be able to restore their homes and lands to the pre-flooding state or what they will live on in the meantime.
The flooding has also been worsened by the decision of President Hassan Rouhani to open the floodgates on dams upstream to reduce the pressure on the poorly constructed barriers; the dams themselves are hated by Ahwazis since they’re part of a massive project to divert the majority of the water from the region’s rivers that once made Ahwaz largely self-sufficient in agriculture and seafood to other, ethnically Persian areas; Ahwazis view this initiative as a regime strategy to ethnically cleanse the region of its indigenous Arab population by making it uninhabitable, with the dams referred to contemptuously as the ‘killer dams’. With the current massive flooding, many Ahwazis have noted that the regime either parches the region by denying its people water to live or drowns it.
Head of the Faculty of Water Sciences of university of Ahwaz, Dr Mehdi Qamshi, said that the allegations against the regime of deliberately engineering, diverting and exploiting the flooding in the region are substantiated by the pattern of flooding; he revealed that the water levels in the Hor al Azim marshlands at the mouth of the delta where the region’s three rivers – the Dez, Karkheh and Karoon – flow into the Gulf are currently still only at 88 per cent of their capacity despite the massive flooding. He said that the regime fears that if more water is allowed to flow through these channels, although this would save lives and prevent massive suffering, as well as protecting cities like Khafajiyeh and Al-Basitin and other areas now endangered by the still-rising waters, doing so might endanger oil and gas exploration and drilling operations in the area; for the regime, Dr Qomshi said, the revenue from oil and gas comes far ahead of the lives and safety of Ahwazi or other Arab peoples.
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. You can follow him on his twitter account: https://twitter.com/samireza42
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Dur Untash Studies Centre.