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Iran admits underdevelopment in oil-rich Arab province

By Redha Amini and Ali Bani Torfi

The Arab-majority province of Khuzestan is suffering from long-term political negligence and economic deprivation, despite being rich of oil and gas and serving as a hub for industrial and exoports, according to the Farsi language Karoon newspaper.

In an article entitled "Khuzestan is the richest province, but ..." published on 6 May, the newspaper states that out of a population of 4.35 million, 1.46 million live in the countryside where there are problems of under-employment while official unemployment in the province is up to 20 per cent. Despite the province's fertility and potential in agriculture, farms are suffering from a lack of investment and are under-performing, leading to rural poverty.

Dr Nasser Soudani, the parliamentary representative for Ahwaz City, was forced to concede the problems with unemployment in the region. He also highlighted the problem of drinking water, which is contaminated and regularly cut off despite the region's large rivers and reservoirs. He laid the blame on the demand for water from sugar cane plantations, which were established after the government confiscated thousands of hectares of land from Ahwazi Arab farmers.

Ahwazi NGOs believe that poverty is far worse than the government is prepared to admit, with unemployment estimated at up to 50 per cent in Arab-populated cities such as Abadan and Mohammerah (Khorramshahr). Iranian politicians are also unwilling to address the root cause of water shortages: the diversion of water to Isfahan and Rafsanjan.

Soudani identified three main problems in Khuzestan: "first there is insufficient development spending, second there is no developed and comprehensive plan and third there is no effective management ... The region's level of educational attainment is lower than other regions and the Education Ministry and the Ministry of Science, Research and the Environment should pay special attention to this region to tackle these problems."

He also talked of an outbreak of untreatable skin and blood illnesses which he said were getting out of control.