Abadan facing environmental catastrophe, says local MP

An MP representing the Abadan region of Ahwaz has warned of imminent environmental catastrophe as a result of the Iranian regime’s damming and rerouting of rivers, along with massive industrial pollution.  

MP Jawad Sa’doonzade said that the resulting pollution and heavy salinity in the massively depleted water table are endangering over two million palm trees which farmers in the region rely on, as well as other crops.  According to Iranian state news agency IRNA from about three million fertilized date palms in Abadan, around one million trees produce an annual average of 25 tons of dates, generating more than 80 billion riyals per year.

A speech delivered at the Abadan governor’s office on Thursday in a joint meeting with the Minister of Agricultural Mahmoud Hojjati, Sa’doonzade sharply criticized the practices of the industries working in the region for their massive pollution and disregard for the environment.   The heavy industrial pollution from these facilities, along with the massive rerouting of regional rivers to other areas by the regime in Tehran, has led to increasingly polluted and saline soil, endangering over two million palm trees which most farmers in the region are dependent on.

The MP said that many farmers now face destitution, with their crops dying as a result of the salinity and pollution, leaving them unable to grow anything on their land.   The increased salinity of local rivers in the past few years as a result of damming and rerouting of rivers and saltwater intrusion into the water table is already having severely damaging effects on farmers’ livelihoods,  Sa’doonzade warned, stating that if this continues, further increases of salinity and pollution levels in the already heavily saline soil in the region will kill four million palm trees, along with other crops, meaning  nothing can be grown there, which would lead to further desertification.

The parliamentarian urged state investment in agricultural infrastructure in the region, calling for the construction of two large water-pumping stations to supply freshwater to farmlands there, and recommending the construction of levees to prevent saltwater from leeching into the region’s farmlands.

Although around one-third of Iran’s total freshwater capacity comes from Al-Ahwaz region (a.k.a.  Khuzestan province, the name given to it in 1936, 11 years after Iran’s annexation), which borders Iraq and the Arabian Gulf, the Ahwazi people suffer from severe shortages of potable drinking water due to the regime’s program of damming and water diversion, with this suffering further intensifying during the scorching summer months, when daytime temperatures can exceed 63 Celsius (145 Fahrenheit).

More than 80% of the regional population, including the residents of the provincial capital, also named Ahwaz, and the two twin major cities of Abadan and Mohammareh, are in dire need of clean drinkable water, with the problem of water salinity and pollution steadily worsening for the Karoon River, the primary regional water source, and all the other rivers in the region.

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The problems of industrial pollution and increasing salinity in the region’s depleted rivers are further worsened by the presence of untreated sewage from several regional cities and towns, including Ahwaz, Abadan, Mohammareh, Dezful, Shoushtar, Mahshor, Masjed-Soleiman and many more, which enters the river directly without undergoing any treatment.

The quality of the Karoon River’s waters has deteriorated sharply in recent years since the Iranian regime’s introduction of damming and diversion programs upriver, nearer the river’s source where it joins the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.  By the time the river reaches Ahwaz city, the increased pollution and salinity mean that the water quality already fails to meet international standards for drinking water, with the water standards even worse near the cities of Abadan and Mohammareh downriver from Ahwaz.

By far the biggest single problem for the Karoon River is the sharply rising salinity levels, which mean that the river water in Abadan and Mohammareh is officially unfit for human consumption according to international standards for several months of the year.

Another factor that brought the situation to crisis point for the local population was the opening of the first two (of five) major sugar cane refineries in the region to the south of Ahwaz city in the period between 1999 and 2001, with the industrial waste from these facilities going into the river and leading to further massive pollution.

Experts are already warning that the destruction of  more Ahwazi farmlands  will fuel additional massive migration from rural areas of the impoverished region to the cities and towns, leading to greater competition for scarce resources in an area  where poverty and destitution are already endemic  among the marginalized people, with many of the existing city dwellers having  previously been farmers who also fled the rural areas also due to the regime’s establishment of large-scale sugar-cane farming as an industry.  With 400,000 Ahwazis in urban areas already living in subsistence-level poverty without any assistance or media coverage, further mass migration will simply exacerbate this already critical situation.

The regime has used its sugar cane industry project as one more means of further dispossessing and ethnically cleansing the Ahwazi peoples, claiming that their farmlands were needed by the state for growing and processing the sugar cane crops.  Massive swathes of land were appropriated as a result, dispossessing countless farmers and destroying palm tree plantations and agricultural areas across the region.  In Abadan, Mohammareh and areas across Ahwaz, there were repeated incidences of arson, with entire palm tree plantations being burnt down simply to terrorize the farmers into leaving.

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