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Op Ed - Iranian Affairs

What is Happening in Ahwaz Now – A Report on the Surging Flood in Ahwaz

Flooding continues to submerge most areas of Ahwaz (also known as Arabistan or Khuzestan) Province located in south/southwestern Iran, a situation that has remained critical since 23rdof March 2019. Already, the flooding and lack of adequate response from the Iranian government has resulted in the displacement of more than 500,000, with another 3 million at risk of imminent floods, according to Iranian official statistics. Nine towns and cities have been flooded thus far, and the unaddressed floodwater continues to destroy more and more Ahwazi towns and villages and farmlands.

The director of the crisis management committee in the region, Kiamars Hajizadeh, told the Iranian news agency “ISNA” on Wednesday the 10thof April 2019 that 234 villages near the Dez, Karkheh and Karoon rivers, have been evacuated so far due to the flooding.

The same day, the Iranian government expressed a purported need to evacuate more neighborhoods in the Ahwaz capital, without specifying any destinations to the crowds. The Ahwaz governor said that these areas must be evacuated immediately, with a population of hundreds of thousands of residents.

Ahwazi citizens in various affected areas have refrained from leaving their homes, saying that the Iranian national government plans to complete its demographic change plan to replace the Arab population with pro-regime and the Revolutionary Guards immigrants in the Ahwazi region by using flood-related evacuations as a pretext.

Ahwazi citizens have responded by accusing the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and government agencies of deliberately exacerbating the floods by refusing to divert flood water to the Ahwazi wetlands such as Al-Azim and Al-DawraK, or even the Arabian Gulf.

Activists say the Revolutionary Guard is concerned with protecting its sensitive military installations in the marshes as well as wells, oil institutions, sugarcane plantations of its companies and other government institutions, with an area of more than 400,000 hectares.

The Iranian response to the devastating flood

First, nearly three months before the flooding, the Ahwaz agricultural department warned the  Ahwaz governor to desilt the water behind its dams, as the region was expected to experience heavy rainfall during winter. The Iranian power ministry ignored the warning from the agricultural department and attempted to deny having received it, but Ahwazi activists have found it noted in one of the Iranian newspapers, rendering the power ministry’s denial of receipt demonstrably false.

Second, soon after minor flooding appeared in Ahwaz, Governor Shariati ordered the ‘emergency’ evacuation of Ahwazi villages and towns without specifying any safe places for the affected people to go. In the same speech, broadcast by Iranian local media, the governor said, “those (Ahwazis) who do not agree to evacuate their homes and agricultural land peacefully, the government will remove forcibly (in compelling or coercion way).”

Third, instead of assisting Ahwazi people and providing them with safe shelter, water, or food, on Thursday the 4th of April, 2019 the Iranian Minister for Roads and Urban Development expressed the readiness of the ministry to provide land and assignment of facilities in Yazd, Isfahan, Lorestan province, as needed, to the people of Ahwaz ,but continued to say that there is no possibility of reconstructing residential houses in towns and villages destroyed by the Khuzestan flood.

Iranian minister Mohammad Islami, during his visit to the flooded areas of Khuzestan province, said that the ministry was “assigning loan facilities of 200 million Rials with a payroll of 4% and 50 million riyals of grants for the construction of special flood settlements in Yazd, Isfahan, (Lorestan) provinces.”

However, the Iranian minister is actually calling for displacing the Ahwazis in Lorestan provinces, where the province itself under severe flooding. Also, while the plan of replacing Ahwazis is been considered by Iranian authorities, is there any similar plan for Lorestan and Shiraz provinces??

Fourth, in an unprecedented talk on Wednesday the 10thof April 2019 by the Iranian minister for Roads and Urban Development, Mr. Islami, stated that villages and towns that have been affected by floods will be transferred and rebuilt in ‘safer’ and ‘appropriate’ places rather than their old locations.

During the meeting between Mr. Islami and Iranian president Mr. Rouhani, they emphasized that houses, farms, and fish farms that were located by the rivers’ beds and damaged by flooding would be moved to new redevelopment and transferred to more convenient and secure places.

Ahwazi people believe that the Mr. Islami’s interviews reflect an intend to forcibly migrate the Ahwazi from their land to other Iranian provinces, followed by settling non-Arab ethnic Persians in the region, which provides 80% of Iran’s oil exports.

International response

Although the global community is aware of Iranian flooding, coverage has mainly focused on Lorestan, Shiraz and Golestan provinces, with little attention to the flooding in the Ahwaz province.

Of the international aid that been sent to Iran, little been sent to the affected areas; almost all aid has been confiscated by Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Despite nearly a full month having passed from the beginning of flooding, there has been no visit from any international department to the Ahwaz province, the region undergoing mass humanitarian disaster.

On Thursday the 11thof April 2019, the Ahwazi people were waiting for the visit of UN resident coordinator and representative of Secretary General in IRI, Mrs. Ugochi Daniels(@daniels_ugochi). Suddenly, Mrs. Daniels declared that her trip to Khuzestan was canceled. The Ahwazi people believe that cancellation was caused by Iranian intelligence services, in order to eliminate any international visit to the Ahwaz region.

In fact, the last international delegate visit to Ahwaz was in 2005, by Mr. Miloon Kothari, the UN special rapporteur on adequate housing and lands rights.

The situation of Ahwaz province at a glance

Although the devastating floods have destroyed a large number of homes and agricultural lands, and hundreds of thousands of Ahwazi people been displaced, there is a glaring absence of any Iranian executive and operative organization in the region.

Families have been left for several days without any single aid from the government. The Iranian Red Crescent has only lately come to the region, and doesn’t have sufficient experience or care. The negligence of the Iranian Red Crescent members has resulted in lacerated hands of one Ahwazi woman, while an Ahwazi man was thrown from an IRC helicopter from the height of several meters.

The Ahwazi people are now accusing the Iranian government of deliberately exacerbating the flood to forcibly migrate Ahwazi people, according to intelligence in the form of a leaked project named as “Khuzestan (Ahwaz) comprehensive security project” that aims to displace the Ahwazi by 2019.

Ahwazis are now left alone in safeguarding themselves from the floods, even as the Iranian army is moving heavy military equipment such as tanks and armored vehicles to flood-affected areas such as Khafajiyeh and Hamideyeh cities.

Finally, the Iranian government has called upon Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces to enter the Khuzestan province on Thursday the 11thof April 2019, under the flimsy pretext of helping the flood-affected area (which is not). As far as I can see, bringing Iraqi militias to Khuzestan province will trigger sectarian wars in the region.


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