The Ahwazi people are increasingly being affected by pollution caused by heavy metal toxics released into their environment by various factories owned by several manufacturing companies.
For example, the various stages of processing carried out by the steel manufacturing factory, located near the city of Ahwaz, entail the emission of a high proportion of toxic particles into the atmosphere. These are then further dispersed by wind and rain to other parts of the area.
Studies carried out in laboratories on the distribution of heavy metals and pollutants show that in the soil samples taken from the land near the steel industrial complex there are significant quantities of manganese, iron, cobalt, nickel, copper, zinc, cadmium, lead and mercury.
The village of “Kheet”, located near the factory, was particularly exposed to severe pollution. The village was effected directly by discharge of industrial wastewater and chemical pollutants from the industrial complex. The increasing production activities of the factory have triggered serious health problems such as lung and skin cancers, chronic respiratory disorders and allergies among the local Arab men, women and children of the village.
As a result of the petro-chemical wastewaters and the heavy metals which are constantly being discharged into their lands, locals have reported that their lands hitherto fertile, are now completely barren and dusty lands. This has also caused the total destruction of natural vegetation and palm trees, which in turn causes widespread desertification which has resulted in a devastating 98% decline in the area’s livestock sector.
The lives of the villagers of “Kheet” were totally devastated as a result these developments. Because of the contamination of their lands and water with high level of mercury and other harmful substances, they have lost their livelihood since they were reliant on farming, raising poultry and fishing.
“Even animals such as cows and dogs have become ill and are constantly coughing. If they cannot tolerate this polluted air and water let alone human beings can”, they claimed.
Natural wildlife has also been effected. Villagers have reported that “many species of fish and migratory birds have completely vanished from the area, which at one time used to be a major habitat and sanctuary for birds like falcons, storks and ducks”.
Despite all these damages sustained to their home, and the appalling health and safety regulations of the factory, the villagers have not received any financial compensation, and their plight has been ignored by the local Iranian officials. They remain in their suffering and are left to fend for themselves as their only source of income has been effectively destroyed by the unregulated activities of the factory.
The skies over the village are permanently filled with smoke and heavy metal particles, the buildings are eroded, decayed and covered with black soot and the village turns black from polluted rain. Moreover, most of local population especially, children, women and elderly people of the village have suffered from various side effects such as diarrhea and a high increase in the number of babies born with mental and neurological problems as a result of metal poisoning such as mercury.
An elderly fisherman, pointing to the village’s rivers, pointed out that “the fauna is devastated, it is unbelievable. For more than three years fish which could be found in great numbers, have in the past three years almost completely disappeared. We are also seeing a huge decline in the fish stock in all of the Ahwaz regions due to the decreasing level of water in the rivers, high salinity and contaminating substances in the water. We now have no ability to obtain drinking water.”
The fisherman also said that “medical research which has recently been conducted in the area has shown that the local fish now contain high levels of mercury and other metals. Anyone who eats these toxic fish has experienced symptoms of mercury poisoning, bowel infections and blood poisoning as well as severe abdominal pains”.
It was gradually getting dark. After my fellow reporters and photographers had finished documenting and taking pictures of the massive pollution, the poor local Arab folks offered us tea and dinner, but we thanked them for the offer and said goodbye. On our way back, returning in our car to Ahwaz city, we no longer teased or joked with one another due to our sadness at seeing the sheer misery of the local people. We just wondered, where are the massive sums of money from this steel foundry and what’s the share for the Ahwazi people?
The growing pollution in Ahwazi regions due to expanding industrialisation activities are claiming the lives of thousands Arabs. People, who are already deprived, disadvantaged and struggle with extreme poverty – an inevitable outcome of the Iranian Regime’s policy which has devastated a region, which was previously one of the wealthiest in terms of its resources, and treats its people like slaves in their own land.