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Iran's Ex-Environment Chief Says Khuzestan Wetlands Dried For Oil

Masoumeh Ebtekar, former head of Iran's Department of Environment (DoE), has backed claims on television from other officials that the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) in 2010 ordered the draining of the Hur al-Azim wetlands, which straddle the border between Iran’s Khuzestan province and southern Iraq, to facilitate the development of oil fields.

In a Twitter post Friday, Ebtekar who has been vice-president in women's affairs since 2017 under President Hassan Rouhani and headed the DoE both under President Mohammad Khatami 1997-2005 and 2013-2017 under Rouhani, wrote that the DoE had previously agreed to oil exploration in the wetland only if damage, including its drying, could be avoided. But according to Ebtekar, in 2010, during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, rivers were diverted so as not to flow into the wetlands.

Ebtekar posted a video clip of recent television interviews with the deputy head of the DoE Ahmad-Reza Lahijanzadeh and deputy welfare minister Ahmad Midari stating that the SNSC had ordered the wetlands dried despite the DoE’s objection.

Hur Al Azim wetland in Iran drained for oil exploration. FILE

Lahijanzadeh said in the interview that the decision was made as Chinese companies carrying out the work were not ready to deploy more costly technologies that had been used by the Japanese in the development of Azadegan and Yadavaran oil fields prior to quitting the projects due to international sanctions.

Lahijanzadeh said the technology used by the Japanese companies did not require drying out the wetlands. Midari said that “officials” at the time believed drying the wetlands could create employment, but they had no consideration for environmental consequences.

One of the first steps taken by the Rouhani administration in 2013 was to again allow waters flow to the wetland − which Ebtekar in said in 2015 had been at that time completely dry − to prevent dust storms.

The serious drop in rainfall this year, however, following a 20-percent decline over 30 years, has reduced the flow of water to the wetlands and led to serious environmental damage. Some activists in Khuzestan province, with a large Arabic-speaking population, have for years objected to the drying of the wetlands and to the transfer of water to other provinces for use in industry, as well as to the diversion of water for crops like rice and sugar-cane.

On Friday afternoon security forces arrested four men and two women protesting in Ahvaz against water-transfer projects, Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported Saturday. Since July 15, people in several cities took to the streets to protest against water shortages. Human Rights Watch said July 29 that at least nine people had been killed and “hundreds” arrested.

A British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National and journalist at Iran International
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