The Iranian regime’s deliberate lethal policy of desertification and water pollution rings alarm bells in Ahwaz


Over billion people, a fifth of the world’s population, have no access to healthy drinking water, with an estimated four to five million dying annually of diseases caused by drinking non-potable water. The UN is predicting that water scarcity is set to increase, with more and more people globally facing critical water shortages in the next few years. 

In the Middle East, the crisis already arrived and is steadily worsening, with Ahwazis, already afflicted by massive problems with access to water, set to be the worst affected.

The Iranian regime currently obtains two thirds of its water supply from territories that it has invaded and occupied such as Al-Ahwaz, in contravention of international law, which states that water should not be diverted from its catchment area.  The rivers in the Ahwaz region are rerouted to ethnically Persian areas to supply their farms and industries, leaving Ahwazi Arabs facing drought and environmental disaster as a consequence.

Despite the catastrophic ecological consequences of this policy to date, including widespread desertification, the regime is stepping up its program of water theft, covertly constructing more dams and a pipeline to divert the remaining rivers in the mountainous areas of Ahwaz to divert the waters there to ethnically Persian areas.   The regime continues to disregard the protests of the Ahwazi peoples of the region, who it subjugates under a brutal de facto apartheid system, as well as ignoring all international laws on land and water rights, relentlessly confiscating the Ahwazi people’s water, as a well as their land with impunity.

According to the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (1), the rights to these waters are clearly defined: the Ahwazi people therefore have the right to a fair and reasonable share of the waterways located on their own land. This UN convention is disregarded by the regime, however, with the waters being rerouted to ethnically Persian provinces, leaving the Ahwazi peoples whose lands were once a bounteous region widely known for agriculture and fishing, struggling to find water for drinking, let alone for growing food.    The theocratic regime has, in fact, continued and accelerated the policy of its predecessors,  with the past forty years seeing massive damming and rerouting of the four major waterways in Ahwaz  – the Karoon, Karkheh, Dez and Jarahi rivers – with the waters diverted to majority-Persian areas in Iran, leaving the indigenous Arab people of Ahwaz facing mass displacement, widespread desertification and increasingly severe water shortages, which  often force them to migrate to other areas; this forced displacement is believed to be an intentional effect of the policy.

The regime’s damming and rerouting programs, like those of its predecessors, have taken place with little and usually no regard for international laws and treaties, especially those concerning displacement of the peoples in the areas affected, or regarding nations taking more than their fair share of water from upstream regions, leaving the peoples there with inadequate supplies.

Tens of thousands of Ahwazis have already been displaced or had their water supply restricted or completely cut off by the river-damming and diversion programs, with these problems set to worsen as the regime expands and accelerates these activities.  For one example, a further 40 dams are planned, with 33 of these scheduled for completion by 2030, according to the regime’s own documents.   All of this, in addition to the existing dams and river diversion, has a catastrophic effect on the Ahwazi people and the natural environment, as well as the once-rich wildlife of the region.

Ahwazi environmentalists and human rights activists urge international organisations to carry out fact-finding trips to the region to assess the massive damage there. Such missions would help to:

  1. Assess the international financial backing for dams in Ahwaz, which have drastically reduced both the quantity and quality of the region’s water.
  1. Evaluate the Iranian regime’s compliance with international laws, conventions and regulations, particularly those concerning the sharing of water and the construction of dams and diversion of waterways while failing to consult or consider the indigenous peoples in the areas affected.
  1. Investigate the indirect environmental and other effects resulting from the Iranian regime’s present and future damming and diversion of Ahwazi waterways, measuring water quality and assessing the effects on public health and the environment.

Among the hazardous consequences of the damming and river diversion to date are greatly reduced water levels and flow in downstream areas of Ahwaz’ regional rivers, leading to dangerously high salinity levels, which is already adversely affecting the health of the region’s peoples, as well as harming the ecosystem and wildlife and devastating regional agriculture.    Ahwazi environmentalists have repeatedly issued warnings that further such damming and river diversion programs will have a devastating effect on the region’s people and environment.

Iran has consistently failed to comply with international laws, conventions and regulations on watersharing and usage, particularly in regard to the UN Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (2).

Bearing all the above in mind, there is no doubt that the threat to the people of Ahwaz and to the region’s wildlife and ecosystem is very real and very grave indeed. Ahwazi activists urge the international community to put pressure on Tehran to immediately suspend work on its river-damming and diversion programs, in order to safeguard the region’s future.


We urge the international community to join with the Ahwazi people in pressing Iran to reach a just and reasonable agreement on water-sharing, and to abandon its intransigent and unjust policies.  It is also essential that the Ahwazi people living downstream from the dams, who are already suffering historic injustices, should be   compensated for their loss of potable water supplies and lost food and income from agriculture.

The scale and effect of the regime’s current river-damming and diversion programs in Ahwaz is staggering; just one of the river-damming programs will provide water, according to the regime, to irrigate one million hectares of Persian farmland. The devastating effect on the Ahwazi towns and villages downstream from the dams is not mentioned by the regime.

The effects of these programs on the environment are similiarly vast and wide-reaching;  for instance, the sharply deterioriating water quality downstream of the various dams is causing serious health problems among the Ahwazi peoples in communities along the rivers, who rely on their waters for drinking and cooking, as well as everything else. The environmental effects even extend to the regime’s sugarcane growing and the related refineries in the region, both which use large quantities of now extremely saline and often heavily polluted water. The effects are so disastrous that much of the water is unfit for human or even animal consumption, or for growing crops.

With the only water available to over 90 percent of the Arab Ahwazi people being heavily polluted and unfit for human consumption, more Ahwazis have died as a result of illnesses contracted as a direct result of drinking this foul water than by execution or even in war.  Given the fact that the Persian settlers in Ahwaz and non-Arab citizens elsewhere are provided with clean water, this policy too is very clearly a part of the regime’s strategy to make the Ahwazi people’s lives so intolerable that they will accept being driven from their land.

 In the past few months, the regime opened the gate of a dam in the region, the Dez Dam, causing massive flooding of rural areas and forcing many residents to flee their homes, with whole farms and hundreds of acres of crops destroyed; the residents were, of course, given no forewarning or compensation for their losses.  It has devastated a vast area or a lot of farmland, submerging dozens of surrounding villages on the bank of the rivers such as Shaebiyeh rural areas around Tustar city that has amany archaeological sites. Despite these enormous impacts, the Iranian Regime had refused to consult with the Ahwazi people affected or their representatives, and had failed to assess the environmental impacts of the dams Project on the Ahwaz land.

Such events are now routine, with the regime’s purpose in constructing such dams being twofold; as well as serving to drive more Ahwazis in rural areas from their lands by depriving them of their homes and means of making a living, the waters can be diverted to more arid, non-Arab areas whose inhabitants are valued by the regime.   Once the rightful owners of the farmland have been driven out, the land is reclaimed by the regime and offered as an incentive to Persian settlers to move to the region.

Another cause for concern was that the Iranian’s Dams Project is not an isolated Project, but it is one part of Iranian’s ambitious Project to eradicate the Ahwazi people. This project includes the plans for developing a dozens of major water development projects such as 40 dams and water transfer tunnel has been established on the Ahwaz catchment basin, and more than 36 dams and tunnel are under construction, also more than 140 dams and tunnel is under study and investigation. This project will deprive a many million hectares of Ahwaz land of water, that the construction of the dam might seriously lead to regional conflict over water between Iranian regime on the one hand and Ahwazi people on the other.

The dam’s project

Within the last four decades Iran’s regime has begun to implement massive and ambitious water development projects on Ahwazi Rivers, devastating the rivers and the lives of Arab people who depend on it. Iran completed the large multi-purpose such as Karoon-1 Dam with a reservoir capacity of 3.139 million m3, and Karoon-3 with a reservoir capacity of 2.970 million m3 and Karoon-4 with capacity of 2.279 million m3 and Masjed Seleyman dam with capacity of 261.597 million m3 and Gatwand dam with capacity of 5.082 million m3 and a lot of other dams. This dams combined with massive tunnel constructed, has resulted in the consequent displacement of the Arabs that is as a deliberate act of genocide.

Salinization of water

Another aspect of the crisis which has a devastating impact on the Ahwazi people is that large amounts of the remaining waters from the rivers are used in the regime’s sugar cane refining and other industrial projects in the region before the untreated slurry is pumped back into the rivers. Sugar cane refineries on the banks of the Karoon, Karkheh, Dez and Jarrahi rivers pump millions of gallons of water mixed with assorted toxic chemicals used in the sugar-refining process and others from the pesticides and fertilizers used in growing the crop, all raw and untreated,  straight back into the rivers with predictably disastrous consequences.   This again leads to further pollution. In addition, the Iranian regime seriously disrupt the timing of Ahwaz flows as downstream, making it hard for Arab farmers to match the expected water to their agricultural needs. As a result, the Arab people in Ahwaz who live close to rivers are deprived of sufficient water at key periods during the agricultural cycle, also suffer adverse health effects from Persian projects pollution.   It seems that the Iranian regime has deliberately used water as a political weapon against Ahwaz. Also the dams being used exert pressure by reducing or even preventing limping the flow of water toward Ahwaz land for significant periods of time as a result, drained water is discharged into rivers, causing salinity levels to rise and making the water unfit for human or even animal consumption.

Finally, the water issue is just one of the concerns of the Ahwaz at the moment. This crisis, which has already devastated the rivers, the environment and the lives of the Ahwazi people, is further exacerbating longstanding tensions over Iran’s brutal occupation of Ahwaz, which has lasted 91 years to date, and the apartheid-style oppression of the people.    Indeed, it’s widely acknowledged by the Ahwazi people that the regime’s policy of river-damming and diversion is one more means of making the region uninhabitable for Ahwazis and driving them from their ancestral lands, which contain over 95 percent of the oil and gas resources claimed by the Iranian regime, and which are thus valuable to the regime which puts profit far ahead of humanity.

By Mostafa Hussein Hetteh

Note: The views expressed in this article are belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Ahwaz Monitor.



  • PETER BEAUMONT, Water Resources Development, Vol. 16, No. 4, 475–495, 2000


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