The traditionally oil- and water-rich Ahwaz region, in present-day south and southwest Iran, has long been one of that country’s fastest-growing industrial zones, particularly since oil and gas have become Iran’s primary export other than terrorism. However, the same water that has proven so essential for industrial manufacturing and refineries has been steadily and progressively polluted, with oil refineries and industrial manufacturing facilities pumping millions of gallons of toxic run-off, industrial waste, raw sewage and pollutants into the rivers without any heed for the predictably catastrophic effects. In turn, the Iranian government’s utter disregard for ecological protections has led to hydrologic toxicity and a scarcity of potable water, with salt-laden discharge causing salinity to reach 40%, and thereby dangerously undrinkable even if it were otherwise non-toxic.
Ahwazi environmentalist Heytham Mohsen said that “over the past years, Ahwaz region has been suffering from deterioration in the infrastructure of its urban areas, the crippling drainage system in the most of Ahwazi cities, which led to leaks of sewage water into Karoon river directly or indirectly. This negligence leads to leaking 1.25 million cubic metres of sewage water into the river.” He stressed that the Karoon river is the primary source of the water used by the residents on its banks for drinking.
He added the pollution in the river in the past few years led to spreading intestine and stomach cancer and infectious diseases such as cholera and urinary tract infections. He blamed the concerned authorities as they did not take the due measures when it comes to desalinating the drinking water and purifying them of poisons and pollutants. Outbreaks of other diseases, including Hepatitis A, Shigellosis, Salmonellosis, and Typhus, have also been documented over the past decade. On a single occasion in 2018, more than 180 residents of a village in the region were poisoned by drinking contaminated water.
While this has long presented an ecological time bomb for the Ahwazis who rely upon their homeland’s rivers, a new and deadly spectre is arising in the form of contagion.
Reports are now emerging that Iran deliberately withheld information about the coronavirus pandemic that has taken root within its borders, and the combination of a lack of breathing masks and utterly absurd ‘medical’ opinions, such as the mullah who claimed that rectally-inserted violet oil would prove superior to ‘western medicine’ has led to a growing crisis across the nation.
The Iranian government has attempted to deny the outbreak, only publicly acknowledging 139 cases to date, but has tasked certain hospitals with admitting coronavirus patients. Razi Hospital in Ahwaz City is one such hospital. Aside from its near-complete lack of necessary sanitisation protocols or adequate medical supplies, the hospital is situated on the banks of the Karoon River. Like other hospitals located in Ahwaz, such as Golestan and Imam Khomenei, Razi does not have special medical ovens that can sanitise medical waste before disposal, and potentially hazardous medical waste is routinely discharged directly into the river.
Rather than helping the affected citizens, the regime has repeatedly responded to complaints by denying any problem, even resorting to withholding the official statistics on levels of water pollution as though this might make the problem itself disappear; the same head-in-the-sand approach it adopts to other grave environmental problems in the region such as air pollution.
However, coronavirus has been spreading in Iran for several weeks, and no serious nationwide preventive measures have been taken to counter it; the intensity of the outbreak is predictably increasing daily, with scarce sanitary fixtures available even for those who could afford their inflated prices. People simply cannot afford health care to prevent coronavirus. The death toll in Iran is very worrying and it is expected that the number of casualties will increase in the coming days, possibly resulting in a full-blown pandemic. Not only Iran, but the whole world will face a major crisis. Therefore, we, Ahwazis call on the World Health Organisation to take immediate action and take the necessary steps to resolve this crisis, which must begin with compelling hospitals to cease the practice of discharging medical waste into local waters and providing both those hospitals and local residents – regardless of ethnicity – with the medical resources necessary to prevent a deadly plague from spreading.
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.