A session finally decides to hear the plights of the environment in the southwestern province of Khuzestan after reports of the pollution brought the issue to national and even international focus; the high-profile session is brilliant in terms of its members: Javad Zarif, Foreign Minister, Masoumeh Ebtekar, VP and Head of Department of Environment, and Hamid Chitchian, Minister of Energy. But to what extent they will succeed in bringing concrete results to the public depends on the premises of the session which seem at best only tepidly reacting to the disaster already having affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in a province very strategic for the system; the golden province which serve the country as a cornucopia of oil income.
Iran’s state news agency IRNA coverage of the event quoted Department of Environment website, who itself quoted Javad Zarif who had been addressing the meeting about the foreign sources of the airborne particle so much the subject of officials’ blame: Iraq and its very disorganized millions of acres of desert. Zarif reportedly called for an ‘international consensus’ on the issue of pollution which only hinged upon few countries neighboring Iran. Mr. Zarif said that Iran had been working with Syria and Iraq especially in managing the desert areas, the source or hotbed of airborne particles and dust; “however, since 2011, political incidents in both countries adversely affected the cooperation; Iran has continued and it will continue efforts in international community which included a letter to UN Secretary-General to be sent soon to urge international attention to the issue and to persuade neighbors to look into the pollution more seriously and responsibly,” he told the meeting, admitting that such consensus-building would be quite time-intensive and thus would prove futile in meeting short-term and emergent occasions of severe pollution in Khuzestan.
Hamid Chitchian also addressed the session; “the Ministry of Energy has addressed the issue by reviving Hour al-Azim marshland through channeling 4 billion cubic meters of water from River Karkha; the marshland stretches in both sides of the border with Iraq; the wetland had almost been dried and thus was an active bed of the particles,” he detailed. “Two issues affect the drying of the wetland; first is Turkey’s unregulated dam building on Tigris and Euphrates in its side of the border; this decreased the flow of water in these two rivers down to Iraq alluvial plain; the second is Iraq’s measures to reserve water in lakes devised to trap water inside the country; this contributed to loss of about 100 billion cubic meters of water which previously inundated the marshland. In the eastern border with Afghanistan, we have a similar issue: Afghan government had not acted according to a deal signed in the 1970s whereby it became committed to allow water quota of the Hamoun wetland to perpetuate the water ecosystem of the region on which the livelihood of many people depended.”
Chitchian’s proposals that the foreign policy machinery should be more active in diplomatic corridors to persuade Turkey and Iraq to abandon their water-reserving schemes as GAP (Southeastern Anatolia Project) seem impractical; the political leverages have not been enough to persuade the Turkish and Iraqi officials to merely hear the case, let alone stopping such grand schemes in their own home country. “To address the issue, the government’s share of responsibility have been carried out through negotiations with Iraqi, Syria, and Turkish officials as the source of airborne particles,” he said, a fact which seems quite unresponsive in immediate addressing the disaster which had made the public impatient.
The political conditions of these countries Mr. Chitchian mentions, are not conducive to addressing the disaster; in Iraq, the central government had largely been engaged in war with ISIL and the disintegrated political and social conditions would not allow such rectifying efforts to address a geographical phenomenon which affects the country’s own people as well. Mr. Al-Abadi’s administration is not in a stable conditions to turn to the issue, even if his delegations would assure Iran’s negotiators of such and such measures. In Turkey as well, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s is highly obsessed with political crisis of an aborted coup and its far-reaching consequences. Even if the country was in peaceful terms with itself, internationalizing of the GAP project, which according to a report, has totally been disastrous to Syrian and Iraq in environmental terms, as Mr. Zarif admits, would be a matter of years to be realized.
Mrs. Masoumeh Ebtekar points to a different but highly effective cause; human intervention in changing climate, global warming, etc. In her scheme of things, the causes have been short-term as well. The hazards of simplifying the disaster to mere facts would be quite enormous; to seek simple solutions for a disaster which is a consequence of years of mismanagement and environmentally unfriendly practices would be to defy the laws of nature; the regional trends have been at work since time immemorial and Mrs. Ebtekar and other authorities should have been predicting such disaster to come once the overall effect of these trends turns to be a beast, equally unruly and devastating. The case of Lake Urmia provides testament to this mismanagement and the failure to study trends and the domestic sheer irresponsibility of the system.
“The session addresses bilateral and multilateral measures in regional and international levels to prepare for dust storms and drafting a national roadmap to secure national rights and to address damage in health, national economy, water resources, agriculture, and natural resources,” Mrs. Ebtekar grandiloquently said. The objectives set totally exceed the possible achievements of the session, with members’ proposals to remain on paper at least for the time being. “Local interventions in natural resources in Karoun and distorting the natural ecosystem in Hour al-Azim marshland, grand scheme of plantations of sugarcane planned to cover Karoun upstream lands, and to expand still further plantation for another 550,000 hectares are the causes for the current situation; the real solution is to reform these changes to the better; to improve resilience would not mean to allow the status quo but to adapt to conditions to prevent further damage to the environment,” she said.
Yet another official, Mr. Khoda Karam Jalali, Deputy Minister and Head of the Forest, Range and Watershed Management Organization (FRWO) drew dark prospects for still deteriorating conditions of the dust storm and airborne particles in the years to come; the response, he says, had been addressing short-term solutions to immediately provide relief for the affected citizens through seeking cooperation of WHO and their advice and expert consultation. “Currently, the province’s dried 40,000 hectares are the grounds from where severe sand storms roam the city of Ahvaz the most hit area; planting saplings in these lands would require 3 years to gradually reduce the critical conditions in weather for the public; the drying of wetlands and marshlands in the province contributed to emergence of 350,000 such empty land susceptible to provide sands enough to reduce the vision in cities to less than 5 meters; add to this 250,000 hectares of varying area of Hour marshland, 46,000 permanent wetlands, 58,000 hectares of dry farming lands, and 40,000 hectares of empty desert; such extensive surface areas are demanding for management and keeping the dust and sands on place,” he lamented, where he believed water shortage of years of drought and water loss had hollowed the soil.
“Sand storm should be addressed apart from naturally-born sand brought by 120-day seasonal winds; the particle size, wind speed, soil moisture, and grass covering in the area determine the wind erosion and sand storm and its severity; particles less than 100 micrograms in diameter remains suspended in the air for 4-7 days, moving horizontally up to 8,000km and soaring up to 6km in altitude,” said Ziaeddin Shoaei, head of the Department of Environment’s task force to combat dust storms detailed.
He believed general practices of tiling the lands to secure ownership in Iraq and then abandoning it exacerbated already tense situation in the western borders; “in eastern borders, Lake Hamoun is the major source of dust storms where extreme evaporation of 5,000mm renders the region virtually uninhabitable, with villagers preferring flight to cities with better conditions; in Central Asia and Lake Aral regions, cotton plantations had since long dried up the lake during the Soviet era with disastrous effects on the ecosystem of the lake; we believe that low-intensity dust in northern provinces should be considered an implication of the Aral drying up, and negotiations would be on the horizon to address the issue with Uzbekistan and other countries of the region,” he told the meeting.