Floodwaters submerge Iran’s Ahwaz-Abadan road in southwest Khuzestan province, April 13, 2019. Photo: Hossein Abdollah Asl / Tasnim
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Widespread flooding across Iran in recent weeks has cost the economy up to $2.5 billion, according to officials, who fear flood defenses protecting the nation’s oil infrastructure could fail, causing massive environmental damage.
Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, Iran’s interior minister, attended an open session
of the Iranian parliament on Sunday and set out the extent of the disaster which has struck three quarters of the country.
Fazli estimated the total cost of the disaster in terms of lost agriculture, infrastructure, and property damage at between 30,000 and 35,000 billion toman ($2.14-$2.5 billion).
Khuzestan province, the country’s economic nerve center, was especially badly hit, according to Fazli, who is in charge of the relief effort.
Thousands of people left homeless by the floods are still sleeping in the open with more torrential rain expected in the coming days. Some 4,400 villages have been affected.
Many people accuse the government of failing to properly regulate urban development projects near rivers, and of failing to dredge riverbeds and build dams.
The floods came at the worst possible moment for the Iranian economy as it groans under the pressure of lost oil revenues, which have fallen sharply since the US reimposed sanctions.
Bijan Zanganeh, Iran’s oil minister, visited flood-hit areas in Khuzestan province on Friday. He warned local officials the area’s extensive network of oil and gas pipelines is at risk
. He did not offer further details, however.
“I am going to write a letter to the country’s officials or the presidency about the violations of the oil pipelines...the violations that have occurred to the riverbed and river paths, is happening to the pipelines to a greater extent which is a disaster,” Zanganeh told officials Friday.
“Ahwaz is full of pipelines and no other place is under threat like Ahwaz, and when I think about it, I have no sleep.”
“I have said it many times including in the parliament… that the oil industry installations are worn out and our colleagues in the oil-rich regions are managing them with tooth and nail,” he added.
Unhappy with the government response to the flooding, many Arab residents of Khuzestan province blame decades of government mismanagement and the neglect of ethnic minority areas for making matters worse.
Some have accused the government of prioritizing oil installations over human life and local farming – the main source of income for Arab households.
Photographs have emerged showing Arab villagers building flood barriers
with clay-filled sacks without the help of government officials or military personnel.
Mahmoud Hojati, Iran’s minister of agriculture, estimates the loss to the agricultural sector alone is close to $1 billion
“This is the time to harvest the wheat in Khuzestan province where nearly 200,000 hectares [2,000 sq km] of agricultural land was destroyed and buried under muck,” he told parliamentarians Sunday.
According to human rights groups, authorities have started cracking down
on disgruntled residents and have stopped some activists from Kurdish areas from travelling to flood-hit regions.
Protests in Ahvaz intensified on April 11 when residents accused authorities of deliberately releasing floodwater onto agricultural land in order to relieve pressure on local oil installations.
At least five activists have been arrested in recent days, and four more have allegedly been killed in clashes
with riot police.
Government security forces and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) often use harsh methods when clamping down on protests in areas where ethnic minority groups struggle for greater political and cultural rights.
Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, accused global banks on Sunday of refusing to transfer private donations for flood victims made by Iranians living abroad and citizens of other countries, fearing US reprisals, according to state news agency IRNA
The banking sector alongside energy and shipping are on the receiving end of crippling US sanctions.
In November last year, the international financial messaging system SWIFT, which facilitates interbank transactions, announced it would cut some Iranian banks from the system to protect the stability and integrity of the system.