This post first appeared in Arseh Sevom and is published here as part of a content-sharing agreement.
In recent years, sandstorms in the western and southern provinces of Iran have become a grave environmental concern, endangering the health and welfare of millions of people in Iran and around the region.
Residents are using the hashtag #KhuzestanCantBreathe to call attention to the problem. Khuzestan is the province in Iran that is home to Ahwaz: the world's most polluted city. A look at a real time map of the world's winds shows winds coming in to southwestern Iran from a variety of locations including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and northeastern Africa.
Foolad FC, Ahwaz's soccer team recently tweeted images of players practicing in the polluted air:
— Foolad FC (@FooladFC) February 10, 2015
This is #Ahwaz #KhuzestanCantBreathe
Eleven NGOs have written to UN officials to highlight the problems in southwestern Iran, asking them to put pressure on the government to respond to the crisis. Their letter can be read here.
Interview with Sam Khosravi
Heavy sandstorms have obscured the sky and devoured the land in cities such as Ahwaz in southwest Iran. These storms have contributed to making Ahwaz the most polluted city in the world.
Arseh Sevom asked environmental researcher Sam Khosravi to comment on the origin of the sandstorms and the high levels of pollution. We asked him several questions. Is Khuzestan suffering from the result of industrial pollution, as is Tehran? Why has the frequency and severity of the storms increased in recent years?
What can you tell us about the origin of the sand and dust storms?
Basically, dust storms can be caused by a variety of sources, both industrial and natural. Current reports on what is occurring in Iran show that this sudden influx of sand storms does not have solely an industrial cause.
There must be a source of these sandstorms.
Three sources for this combined natural and human disaster have been identified so far. Satellite images show that Syria and Iraq have played a key role over a certain period of time. Deserts in North Africa are another source of sand and dust as well. Studies conducted at the University of Tehran show the storms are also caused by the degradation of wetlands. In order to ascertain a precise cause we need to conduct more independent research.
Sandstorms are not new to the region. Why have recent ones created such a dire situation for the people and the region?
Deterioration of water resources and the disappearance of natural barriers combined with atmospheric changes have made the storms worse. Some models predict even more storms in the (near) future as well.
How can this environmental crisis be solved?
We've had these kinds of storms in Iran for a long time, think of the “Nashi” wind in the southern part of the country, for example. The problem is that in comparison to the past, the intensity and frequency of these storms has increased.
There is no short-term solution. The problem was not created in one night and cannot be solved that in one night either. In the short-term, we need to think about the health of the residents of the region and provide them with tools to mitigate the effects of the storms. Working hours in the governmental organizations should be decreased, relief groups should be active in various areas of the region and ventilation equipment should be used in homes.
Long-term solutions are quite difficult. They will take time and money. In view of the current situation in the Middle East, especially in Syria, Iraq and Iran it is unlikely that anything will be done.
A serious effort needs to be made to revive dead ecosystems. It's quite difficult but I think it's possible.
This is a translation of a post originally in Farsi.