Building dams and diverting water from Ahwazi rivers to central provinces in Iran and the effects of these projects on the local Arab farmers

Environmental activists in Ahwaz have been campaigning against the construction of dams and diverting water through the man-made tunnels to central part of Iran for agricultural and industrial uses for many years. In response, the authorities have attempted to conceal or deny the existence of such projects by restricting access to these sites and keeping Ahwazi people misinformed about their right to water for drinking, agricultural use and for the consumption of cattle.

One of the consequences of preventing water from entering Ahwazi rivers, is the drying up of the main marshlands such as the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Hour Alfalahiya and Hour Alazim. According to the field researches conducted by the local activists as well as the observation of satellite images between 1973 and 2015, the enormity of the environmental disaster has become alarming. During this period, the extent of Alazim marshland which is divided between Iraqi territory and Ahwaz, has been reduced from 311,642 kilometres to only 130,133 kilometres. This means that more than 67 percent of the marshlands was dried recently.

This vast drying wetland has not been as a result of the lack of rain in Karkheh river basin but rather caused by human interference affiliated to the Iranian authority through construction of dams and tunnelling Ahwazi water to mainly Isfahan province. The main reasons for drying and drainage of Alazim marshland are the construction of Karkheh dam; the discovery of the oil fields such as Azadegan, Yaran and Yadavaran; as well as building new roads in marshes to get access to the oil sites. [1]

The marshlands are homes to thousands of local Arab farmers that live on fishing, hunting and grazing buffalos. With the deterioration of the marshlands, the shortages of water and food and the death of cattle, the vast majority of people have left their villages to settle in the margin of the big cities. The rest of the people whom have stayed in the marshes are faced with not only shortages of water but the deliberate burning of dry marsh that affects the rest of the buffalos and the local residents.

The newly published photos and video of the partly burned buffalos are heart -breaking. Although, the governor of Hawizeh city denied the incident, the owner of the buffalos spoke about the incident and explain how the local farmers and their animals are affected by the burning marsh. She added that people are so desperate for water since the buffalos need to stay in water at least 8 hours a day and that now their cattle are dying slowly with agony. The local Arab lady asked for help from the authorities to provide water and forage for her buffalos. She said that ‘the streams are drying and we are very concerned that if the water does not arrive soon, all our buffalos will die. Our livelihood is from these animals.’ [2]

Although the government is exploiting the natural resources of this land including the oil and gas, the local Arabs complain about their poverty and misery and that they do not have enough money to buy food or clothing for their children. It is notable that the Iranian state in party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and is under obligation to ensure ‘the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.’ [3]

The local activists from Ahwaz warned that if the current situation of water crisis is not dealt with accordingly by the Iranian authority, the big exodus to big cities as well as to the neighbouring countries and Europe will happen soon and the region will face a state-caused migration crisis that can affect hundreds of thousands of people. Therefore, it is required that the international community and the United Nations special organisations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to get involved and send their special envoys to the Ahwazi region and to investigate the current water disaster and to prevent the crisis from further deterioration.


[1] Ahmed Ebeyat, ‘Alazim marshland is exposed to drying and not natural drought’ (25 June 2016) <http://borwall.com/alahwaznews.php?khabar=1533> accessed 15 July 2018.

[2] NaderehWaelizadeh, ‘Buffalos of Alazim marshland are between the fire and water’ (15 July 2018) <http://www.ghatreh.com/news/nn43444615/گاومیشهایهورالعظیممیانهآتش> accessed 15 July 2017.

[3] Convention on the Rights of the Child, UN Treaty Series, vol 1577, p 3, 20 November 1989, Article 27.

By Abdulrahman Hetteh


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