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Thousands protest in Ahwaz to save Karoun River

Thousands of Ahwaz City residents of all social backgrounds and ages gathered to hold hands along the banks of the Karoun River yesterday to protest against its destruction.

Residents of Ahwaz, supported by scientists and local members of parliament, are pressing Vice-President Masoumeh Ebtaker who also heads the Environmental Protection Organisation, to stop the drying of the river and restore it to its former glory. They are also bringing attention to the problem of air pollution in Ahwaz, which is recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the world's most polluted city. The crowds along the banks swelled and the protest became noisier as the day wore on and night fell as locals vented their anger and called for greater environmental controls.

The official government propaganda media has reacted by accusing environmentalist critics of being US-sponsored separatists and denying the environmental problems facing Ahwaz. Meanwhile, the Iranian media has largely ignored the mass protests, which have been mobilised through social media, in order to repress the peaceful environmental movement

The Karoun is Iran's largest and only navigable river, but it is threatened by a massive dam construction project that is siphoning off billions of cubic metres a year to other provinces, particularly Isfahan.

In place of the constant flow of water from the Zagros mountains is toxic saline waste water from heavy industry and intensive agriculture, particularly sugar plantations, as well as human sewerage.

The untreated water is pumped into people's homes with no attempt to purify it, causing severe illnesses such as dysentery, cholera, typhoid, various cancers and dermatitis. Meanwhile, fauna and flora that rely on the the river waters are being eradicated and the ancient marshes are drying up.

Controversy surrounds the Koohrang-3 tunnel, which is currently under construction and is set to transfer 255 million cubic metres of water per annum to Zayandeh Rood in Isfahan. The diverted waters will be used for agro-industrial projects, instead of irrigating traditional Arab lands where food staples are grown, such as rice and wheat. Already, three tunnels transfer around 1.1 billion cubic metres of water from the Karoun and its tributaries to Isfahan every year.