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Oil and the Destruction of the Garden of Eden

The ancient and unique Hor Al-Azim marsh is threatened by continuing oil exploitation, according to indigenous Ahwazi Arabs, environmentalists and members of parliament.

Critics of the oil industry are highlighting the threats to the marshland, which forms part of an ecosystem that is crucial to regulating moisture and temperatures in an otherwise hot and arid region.

Oil companies started exploring the Hor Al-Azim marsh in 2000 following controversial environmental approvals. The administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013) confiscated 7,600 hectares of marshland for oil exploration over a 30 year period.

Drilling sites are drained before operations are started, leading to permanent damage. Since drilling operations started, the oil industry has caused added demand to water supplies, drained the marshes and caused high levels of pollution.

Many worry the area - believed to be the Garden of Eden in Biblical legend - could be turned into to a toxic wasteland.

Jasem Moramazi, the head of the Jounob water aquaculture institute, claimed that without the water-logged marshes, flora and fauna could face extinction. If the marshes dry up, species of fish such as benni, gattan, shabbout, shliaj and hemri, could be wiped out entirely, along with many mammal species unique to the marshlands that straddle the Iran-Iraq border. The marshes are also important for migratory birds from as far away as Africa and Russia.

Aquaculture is also a major source of income for Ahwazi Arab people in the marshlands. The degradation of the environment will impoverish the farmers and fishermen. Recent weeks have seen thousands of fish die in the marshland's ponds due to late of fresh water and severe oxygen depletion.

Jawad Kazemi Nasab Albaji, a member of Ahwaz, Bawi, Karoun in the majles said that the oil company has never specify 1% of the oil revenue to the local people in Hur for the environmental damage they caused to the area.

However, the Department of Environment and and oil producers have failed to develop a means to tackle waste water drainage into the Hor Al-Azim marsh. Hedayat Ulla Khademi, a member of Majlis, accused oil officials of ignoring the problems of toxic effluent from oil and petrochemicals production seeping into the marshland.

The situation is worse during rainstorms and flooding and was increasing the risk of disease, claimed Khademi. Instead, he suggested the petrochemicals industry should process waste into chemical fertiliser for the farming sector or buried deep underground. The decision to close 20 sluice gates that empty fresh water into the marsh was worsening the situation, according to Khademi.