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Iran deploys scientists to environmental "crisis zone" in Ahwazi Arab homeland

Iran's Department of the Environment is examining the environmental crisis that has hit the Ahwazi Arab homeland, following years of campaigning by Ahwazi activists.

Scientists are to assess the impact of pollutants from both the oil and non-oil industries on the marine environment in the Arab-majority province of Khuzestan as well as Hormozgan and Bushehr on the Gulf coast, said the deputy head of marine environment at the Department of the Environment, Mohammad Baqer Nabavi, in an interview with the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA).

"Pollution from oil, gas and petrochemical industries and other factories located in the south will be assessed," he said, adding the plan will start next month. Nabavi said Mahshahr, Asalouyeh and Bandar Abbas are the three main environmental crisis areas. Special environmental teams and experts will measure the level of pollution of oil and non-oil wastes such as chemical agents.

The British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) has placed the environment at the centre of its campaign against the economic marginalisation of indigenous Ahwazi Arabs. Many Ahwazis traditionally depend on fishing for their livelihoods and have complained that pollution from oil and petrochemicals industries is poisoning the fish and reducing fish stocks.

In March, two of Iran's leading ecologists claimed that the Bandar Imam petrochemical complex is causing environmental devastation. Research by Dr Abbas Ismail Sari and Dr Bahram Kiaee found that a large area of Khuzestan is seriously affected by pollution from mercury and other dangerous chemicals used in petrochemicals manufacturing (click here for article).

In December, a conference Azad University in Ahwaz City heard that the Iranian regime's industrial policies are causing environmental chaos in Khuzestan. At the conference, Dr Hormoz Mahmmodi Rad, the head of Khuzestan's environmental organisation, described situation affecting the province's natural environment as "worrying" and "chaotic" with serious consequences for human health. He emphasised the need for planned industrial development with action to stop the industrial pollutants from pouring into the Karoun River. The Karoun is an essential water source for agriculture as well as fishing, which together provide the largest source of income for indigenous Ahwazi Arabs. Dr Mahmmodi Rad warned that the province's natural environment was in a perillous state, with biodiversity in the marshlands severely threatened and some animal species could face extinction as a result of industrial pollution (click here for more details on the conference).

Earlier in 2006, controversy erupted over pollution from the Bandar Imam Petrochemical Company, a subsidiary of the state-owned National Petrochemical Company, following the death of thousands of fish off the Mahshahr (Mashour) coast. Some Gulf states banned seafood imports from Iran due to radioactive contamination, indicating that marine pollution is a long-term industrial disaster (click for further information).

BAFS film on river pollution in Ahwaz