Ahwaz has one-fifth of Iran’s underprivileged population


31 Jul 2018

The term marginalisation is defined by the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2010: Reaching the marginalized, as ‘a form of acute and persistent disadvantage rooted in underlying social inequalities.’ [1] People who belong to certain ethnic group, poor section of the society, women and children, rural population and people living in informal settlements are often subject to marginalisation and exclusion from the enjoyment of rights in their society.

The Governor of Ahwaz province stated that one of the most important reasons for the increase in the marginal population in Ahwaz region is the failure of gigantic national projects to exercise due diligence to prevent the environmental catastrophe. The 1980s Iran-Iraq war, the massive dam projects and the national sugar cane plan are the main factors contributed to the surge in marginalization in Ahwaz province, according to the Governor. [2]

More than 4.85 million people live in makeshift settlements on an area of 37 thousand hectares in Iran. [3] Nearly one fifth of these population are in Ahwaz region, with 850 thousand people living without access to urban’s basic services in Ahwaz, Mashoor, Abadan and Masjed Soliman city. In addition, Ahwaz region ranks second in Iran in terms of having time-worn urban houses that urgently required replacement with new standard buildings. It means that up to 40 percent of houses are unsafe for living in the region. The increase in the number of accidents of collapsing buildings in Ahwaz city that have many casualties demonstrate the urgency of this situation and the need to address the problem. [4]

As the Governor of Ahwaz explained, the marginalisation in Ahwaz region is created by mismanagement and intentional hostile policies carried out by the Iranian state. With each new national project in this region, Ahwazi people lose their homes in the villages and rural areas to settle in the shantytowns of big cities. With the discovery of new oil and gas sites, people are forced to live their agricultural land so that Iran’s Oil Company can exploit these natural resources and develop the Persian cities at the expense of Ahwazis.

With the construction of unlimited number of dams on Ahwazi rivers and diverting this water to Persian cities and villages for agricultural and industrial use, Ahwazi farmers suffer from shortages of water and lose their cattle. Yet they are unable to cultivate the land because the regime does not issue licenses to them and does not allow the water behind the dams into the rivers. As a result, five-sixth of the palm trees died and people lost their means of livelihood in the villages and migrated to cities.

The Iran-Iraq war ended 30 years ago, however, the affected Ahwazi people are still unable to return to their homes on the border since the military establishment in Iran have confiscated their lands for security reasons. However, many people who returned to Mohammarah and Abadan city after the end of the war have lived in unhealthy conditions. They are bitten by the lack of necessary services such as clean water and sanitation.

Accordingly, Iranian state is violating its international obligation to redress the poverty and to guarantee the right of Ahwazis to adequate standards of living including adequate housing under Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights. [5]

According to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ‘states parties must give due priority to those social groups living in unfavourable conditions by giving them particular consideration. Policies and legislation should correspondingly not be designed to give leverage to already privileged social groups at the expense of others.’ [6] Yet, the state of Iran does not show any commitment towards its international obligations to redress the worsening situation of marginalisation in Ahwaz.


[1] Global Monitoring Report, EFA Global Monitoring Report 2010: Reaching the marginalized (UNESCO, 2010) 135.

[2] The Islamic Republic News Agency, ‘Projects without attachment to environment cause marginalization in Khuzestan’ (22 July 2018) <http://www.irna.ir/fa/News/82978692> accessed 29 July 2018.

[3] Sara Salimi, ‘Living outside the city context’ (Aftab Online, 20 October 2010) <http://www.aftabir.com/articles/view/social/urban/c4c1287556559_city_p1.php/زندگیخارجازمتنشهر> accessed 29 July 2018.

[4] Fars News Agency, ‘40% of the urban population in Khuzestan live in informal settlement’ (25 July 2018) <https://www.farsnews.com/news/13970503001029/سکونت-40-درصدجمعیتشهریخوزستاندرسکونتگاه%E2%80%8Cهایغیررسمی> accessed 29 July 2018.

[5] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, GA Res 2200A (XXI), 16 December 1966.

[6] UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), General Comment No. 4: The Right to Adequate Housing (Art. 11 (1) of the Covenant), E/1992/23, 13 December 1991, para 11.

By Abdulrahman Hetteh

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