Ahwazis’ health at stake as marshlands are running dry


25 Jul 2018

The right to clean air is a fundamental right for everyone. However, Ahwazi people are denied this right as they are exposed to the air pollution due to heavy contaminated industrial activities and burning of undesirable gas at drilling sites and oil refineries in the homeland of Ahwaz in South and South West of Iran. In addition, dust storm has contributed worsening the quality of air in the region. The dust storms are mainly caused by the government intervention in the water resources of Ahwazi rivers through changing the water courses to central parts of Iran and desiccating the Ahwazi marshlands. The aforementioned factors impacted health of humans and have increased ‘cardiovascular and respiratory deaths,’ [1] cancer cases and other related diseases among the Ahwazi population. [2]

Above all, the heavy smoke from the fire in Alazim marshland has spilled over into many cities and villages in Ahwazi region including Howeyzeh, khafajiya, Rofaye, Albsetin, and Ahwaz city. On Monday, 23rd of August, life in these cities was disrupted and public places such as schools, banks and government offices were closed. [3] Many people were taken to hospitals and health centres after complaining about burning eyes and the choking caused by the inhaling smoke.

According to Borhan Reyazi, a researcher and university scholar, the thick and heavy smoke, of sulphuric type, is caused by the burning coal under the dry marsh. Based on his observation, the continuation of fire indicates that this is the burning of plants which have been accumulated and decomposed over a period of tens of thousands of years, leading to forming coal under the marshland. It is very difficult to put down this fire and sometimes it is impossible unless the authority opens Karkheh dam valves to allow the necessary water to fill the dried areas of Alazim marshland again. [4]

The photographs and video images posted on social media shows the gravity of the situation in the affected cities. Ahwazi people are helpless since the authorities show no remorse at the situation of the people and, indeed, have no intention or willingness to tackle the problem once and for all by allowing enough water from Karkheh dam to enter into the marshland. And it does not seek to end all the human suffering and environmental disaster.

It is noteworthy the Iranian state is responsible under target 3.9 of Goal 3 of the General Assembly resolution on Work of the Statistical Commission pertaining to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development ‘to reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination.’ [5]


[1] Gholamreza Godarzi, etc, ‘Cardiovascular and respiratory mortality attributed to ground-level ozone in Ahvaz, Iran’ (2015) 187(8) Environ Monit Assess 486, 486.

[2] Mostafa Hetteh, ‘Unprecedented environmental catastrophe could see the whole Al-Ahwaz region evacuated’ (Ahwaz Monitor, 27 August 2016) <http://www.ahwazmonitor.info/articles/unprecedented-environmental-catastrophe-see-whole-al-ahwaz-region-evacuated/> accessed 24 July 2018.

[3] Asr Iran, ‘Smoke has shut down three cities of Khuzestan’ (23 July 2018) <http://www.asriran.com/fa/news/622424/دود-3-شهرستانخوزستانراتعطیلکرد> accessed 24 July 2018.

[4] Salamat News, ‘The smoke of Alazim marshland in the eyes of people in Khuzestan’ (11 July 2018) <http://harlahze.com/سلامت/دودهورالعظیمدرچشمخوزستانی-zwnj-ها> accessed 24 July 2018.

[5] UNGA, Work of the Statistical Commission pertaining to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, A/RES/71/313, 10 July 2017.

By Abdulrahman Hetteh

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