Choking on racism: Ahwazi Arabs get only pollution, disease, and death from regime oil trade
Cancer diseases’ rates among citizens of the south Ahwaz city of Ma’shour have surged due to the deliberate contamination of water by the Iranian regime.
Experts have said such diseases are being caused due to leakage of toxic waste from petrochemical facilities into the rivers and the coasts of the Arabian Gulf, where it pollutes the water and aquatic life therein. According to official tallies, 6,000 people throughout Ahwaz region now contract cancer each year – a 20 percent increase from previous years. These figures indicate an escalating health disaster that could claim thousands of Ahwazi lives.The health situation in Ahwaz has also worsened following dust storms that have been sweeping through Ahwaz for 15 years. Pollution resulting from dust has increased sixty to seventy-fold compared to its normal rates over the past years.
The local Arabs told Ahwaz Monitor sources that they drink brackish water from ancient broken pipes, water which is clearly unfit for animals’ consumption, let alone for humans. They explain that this is the only source of water available, with many children in the area becoming ill or dying as a result of the diseases contracted through drinking it. They added, extreme Pollution, lack of health care access driving cancer rates up for all the local population. Amongst the illnesses which affect the Ahwazi people as a result of being reliant on contaminated water sources are intestinal and kidney conditions, as well as various kinds of cancer. With no media awareness of their plight or any help from international human rights bodies, the suffering of Ahwazis, trapped in conditions of medieval poverty due to the regime’s policy of deliberate neglect towards Iran’s ethnic minorities, continues without respite.
Many observers have suggested that this widespread poverty and unemployment in this oil-rich region, along with the regime’s systemic oppression and racism, are the primary reasons behind the increasing anger and despair and rising of suicide cases among young Ahwazis. The regime’s ethnicity-based discrimination is overt, with acts such as disseminating Arab culture and language being declared acts of treason punishable by imprisonment and often by execution. Persecution by regime forces is routine, with harassment, arrest, and torture of Ahwazis being everyday occurrences.
Ahwaz region has the lowest per capita income in the country after Baluchistan province, with nearly 90 percent of the population living below the poverty line, while the regional life expectancy rate is eight years lower than the national average and infant mortality rates are the highest in the nation. These grim statistics are caused by a variety of factors, not only the regime’s institutional prejudice but poverty, widespread malnutrition due to lack of food and clean water, lack of basic education and of primary health care. Conditions in the Ahwaz region leave many residents feeling that death might be a merciful escape.
Ma’shour is an ancient city and port in Ahwaz region of southwestern Iran. It is connected to Ahwaz city from the north. From the west, it is bounded to the city of Muhammarah. It is just 18 kilometres from Khor Mousa. It is also adjacent to the Swaira and Jarahi rivers. In 1991, the national petrochemical firm in Iran established a plant in the area due to Khor Mousa being a resource-rich location. This move led to a surge in the city’s population concomitant with an economic boom.In the city, there is infrastructure for the oil industry. It is exported from the city’s port. About 20 kilometres away, there is also a massive infrastructure for petrochemical industry. The city has developed rapidly since 1995 due to this port. All these plants and firms in the city of Ma’shour are known together as the Ma’shour Industrial Zone’. It covers an area of 2,000 hectares.
Statistics show that the petrochemical plants reap tens of millions of dollars in revenues from exports. Official figures suggest that its exports alone are equivalent to the total non-petroleum exports of Iran. This year, these plants exported products worth $8,698. Although the city of Ma’shour is resource-rich with a strong industrial base and a powerful network of electricity, drinking waters, and roads, the Ahwazi Arab people are left marginalized.They are plagued by poverty, unemployment, and deprivation. Though employment opportunities should be plentiful in this city, a senior local official in Ma’shour said that there are about 16,000 unemployed youth among every 287,000 people in the city. This figure is alarming, as such a level of destitution does not befit the city’s status as a resource-rich area.
There are 75 petrochemical plants in Iran -18 in Ma’shour alone, all of which are operational. Since its opening, about 125 thousand billion have been invested in the city’s petrochemical industries, with 24 thousand billion being spent on projects in development.There are approximately 150 firms affiliated with these industries with an estimated 27,300 workers on the payroll. Looking at the staggering rates of unemployment in Ma’shour, experts conclude that most of the staffers of these firms are non-Ahwazis. This is unjust, they say and these grievances should be looked into.Additionally, Ma’shour is lacking proper health, education, or entertainment services. The colossal resources have not saved the city from poverty, as none of the profits from these industries are being invested in city enrichment.
For years, Iran has been oppressing the Ahwazi Arab people through intimidation, mass arrests, torture, starvation, denial of employment, and the mass execution of Ahwazi civilians.The Iranian regime has become very sensitive to any protest by Ahwazis and any efforts to call for basic rights cracking down brutally at the first sign of any dissent and harassing, intimidating and often arresting anyone likely in an effort to quash demands and terrorise the local Arabs into silence. The regime is, in fact, anxious to suppress any protests in the Arab Ahwaz, viewing the long-oppressed Ahwazis as a potential security risk and subjecting them to further brutal injustice and oppression.
This history includes a history of exploitation of the wealth and natural resources of Ahwaz, in particular, the natural gas and oil that are being extracted without discernible economic benefit for the Ahwazi Arab people. The Iranian state’s policies have crippled the majority of the Ahwazi Arab population. An estimated 90 percent of Ahwazi households live below the poverty line, even as they live on a sea of oil and gas, and mineral resources that have been exploited and stolen since 1925.