Last month, Iran signed a deal with the South Korean state-owned company K-Water to construct the Karoun-2 dam. The dam will be built at Soosan, 40km north of the city of Izeh, and is set to significantly exacerbate Ahwaz's water problems
On June 2, Ahwaz residents formed a human chain in front of the Choubi Park opposite Street 17 in the Kianpars district in a protest that lasted four hours. According to the opposition National Council for Resistance in Iran (NCRI), protesters held up signs saying "Lifeless Karoun = Khuzestan’s death", "Karoun is our life", "Transfer of water = Khuzestan’s death", "No to diversion of Karoun’s water", "Do not turn Khuzestan into hell by transferring its water".
The peaceful protests have been held regularly along the banks of the Karoun, despite police repression. Demonstrators been attacked by the regime and the neo-fascist Pan-Iranist Party, which accuse the demonstrators of being aligned with "foreign terrorists" and "separatists."
The Karoun is Iran's largest and only navigable river. The dam construction project 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.
In October 2013, Vice-President Masoumeh Ebtekar visited the protest in an attempt to reassure the protesters that the government was acting to address the environmental problems. However, she ignored their demands to deal with the effects of low river water flow on the Hor Al-Azim (Huwaizeh) and Shadegan (Falahiyeh) marshes, which are being drained in a project reminiscent of Saddam Hussein's marsh destruction in Iraq. The Ahwazi environmentalists outlined 22 key concerns over dam construction:
- Karoun's diversion to central provinces
- Dust and resulting health problems
- The diversion of Dez river to Qum city
- The crises of Goutwand dam
- Catastrophic consequences of water dam building
- The catastrophic effects of drought on the Hor Al-Azim (Howayzeh) marshes in addition to destructive impacts of local oil companies
- The effects of drought and pollution from oil, metal and chemical production on Shadegan (Falahyeh) marsh
- The pollution of rivers by sugar cane projects and the effects of agricultural waste waters and stubble burning on drinking water and human health.
- The catastrophic crisis affecting Zoherh River in Hendijan (Hendian) due to the low volume of water
- The pollution of the Jarahi and Maroun rivers by oil companies
- The crisis of the marine environment at Khour Mousa (Bandar-e-Emam)
- Pollution caused by petrochemical companies in Mahshahr and Emam ports
- Deforestation in Izeh, Baghmalek, Behbahan and Dezful
- The destruction of the Izeh marsh
- The destruction of the Bamdej marsh
- The effect of industrial and residential waste water on the Karoun
- The deaths of many native yellow deer in Shush and Dezful
- Air pollution caused by smoke from the oil industry in cities such as Omidiyeh, Ahwaz, Masjed Soulayman, Haftgel and Dasht-e-azadegan (Khafajyeh)
- Pollution caused by the unmonitored burial of huge quantities of rubbish, which is leading to the spread of disease
- Pollution caused by the Foulad Khuzestan steel plant and the Abadan refinery
- The death of hundreds of palm trees in Shadegan (Falahiyeh), Khorramshahr (Mohammerah) and Abadan
- The drying of the Maleh River, a Karoun tributary, and oil pollution in the river