Wildfires in Ahwaz last week destroyed four more hectares of the date palm trees that once helped feed the region, with the Iranian regime’s Tasnim news agency reporting that between 700 and 750 of the decades-old trees were destroyed. Regional drought and desertification in the predominantly Arab region in southwestern Iran, resulting from disastrous regime policies and exacerbated by the scorching summer temperatures and rapidly accelerating rates of climate change, have triggered similar fires across the region causing widespread devastation.
Farmers in Ahwaz fear that the date-palm plantations whose sweet produce was famed across the region are facing extinction after the Iranian regime dammed and diverted the once-bounteous rivers used for generations to irrigate their lands, with the waters that sustained the trees now sent to other, ethnically Persian areas of Iran while the palm trees wilt and die.
The farmers’ pleas to the regime to provide alternative water sources have fallen on deaf ears, with desertification accelerating as the rivers are reduced to a salty trickle, leaving the farmers without water for their farmlands or even for their own survival and that of their livestock.
Although palm trees are capable of surviving in harsh desert heat, they need water, with the lack of any fresh water and the salinity of the remaining water supply meaning those in Ahwaz are dying off. In a document about the current crisis, the Deputy Rural Cooperative Organisation of Ahwaz explained that ‘the inflow volume of Karun River water has been severely reduced. As a result of the low water level in the river, we’ve witnessed a surge of salty water from the sea [the Arabian Gulf] into the Karun River, which increased the salinity level of the water in this river.’
The regime’s construction of the Gotvand Dam whose bed is built on a salt flat has also contributed to the dangerously increased salinity of the Karoon River. The dam has been widely condemned as a “salinity factory”, an “exhibition of environmental lessons”, an “environmental disaster”, and “the great national mistake”, has increased the river’s salinity level by 25 percent, making the water toxic to marine life and undrinkable for other species, as well as being useless for irrigating crops.
The Ahwaz region, which contains over 95 percent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran, is already suffering as a result of severe pollution from unchecked oil and gas drilling. Many in the region believe that the latest wildfires were deliberately started by the regime’s ‘Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) as a means of driving the Ahwazi people from their ancestral lands in order for the regime to monopolise the oil and gas resources and further expand oil and gas drilling. Despite the vast mineral wealth in the region, most of the Ahwazi people live in conditions of desperate poverty, denied any of the vast wealth attained by the regime in Tehran from their resources.
Meanwhile, the once-bounteous rivers that fed the world-renowned marshlands have been reduced to a trickle by a massive program of river-damming and diversion, with the waterways that were once filled with ocean-going vessels travelling to and from the Gulf, now largely reduced to heavily polluted streams. The toxic mix of pollution, desertification, sandstorms and wildfires has not just destroyed the livelihoods and way of life for millions of Ahwazis whose forefathers made their living for generations by farming and fishing, but has devastated the ecosystem in the wetlands at the mouth of the Gulf, where many of the fish, birds and other creatures that made the area a wildlife haven have either fled or been driven to extinction.