In any community, regardless of its size, unnoticed time bombs tick. The social and environmental changes leading to major events remembered by the collective psyche are the culmination of concealed processes considered as trivial at their earliest stages. In Iran, environmental Issues are the time bombs.
In Iran, the alarm bells have been ringing since the late 1980s: a soaring demographic combined with chaotic urbanisation has brought insidious but radical changes. Iran exhibits one of the steepest urban growth rates in the world, according to the UN estimates.
Bells tinkled first, then rang loud: few listened, fewer discussed it. No action followed.
Today, as the image of Iran as an environmentally wrecked country emerges, the bells toll.
In the last five decades, the population size has almost tripled and townspeople represent 74% of the total (47% in the late 1970s). Drought, water shortage and soaring pollution have slowly and irreversibly contributed to the modification of economic conditions and the social fabric.
Behind the official façade and the pretty photos taken in the touristic areas to attract the wealthy visitors from the West, the time bomb of the environmental fiasco ticks even faster.
In the ayatollahs’ realm, the environmental issues are not worth bothering about.
The Iranian Domesticity
The paradigm lies behind what they consider the roles of men and women are in society. It is the virile men’s role to face the life-and-death external issues such as the Iranian position on the international geostrategy board, developing missiles and the expanding nuclear facilities.
Women and the mummy’s boys should look after the household’s daily chores, tackle internal issues not worth the attention of the very important people, except when they feel like giving unsubstantiated advice and expect to be obeyed without question. Providing water for ablutions, cooking food and cleaning the clutter left by the real men are domestic and womanly tasks.
As is the case for all authoritarian regimes, the main purpose of the Iranian state media is to embellish the face of the regime. The citizens are bombarded with articles on how other nations must learn from the Glorious Islamic Revolution teachings.
Inflated by their sense of self-importance, the military and clerics are photographed shoulder to shoulder admiring homespun ballistic-missiles. As the Militarist Islamic Republic of Iran grows, it shows the disturbing face of an imperialist.
The Department of Environment
Of course, there is an Iranian Department of Environment (DoE) under the supervision of the president.
Despite the worthy words used in it, the charter (see below) is politically impotent and follows the ayatollahs’ politics. If they say that all wrongdoings are to be attributed to foreign elements, the DoE follows suit.
It drums fast and loud that the Western sanctions and embargo have inflicted irreparable damage to the Iranian environment, and the foreign elements are responsible for the disruptive dust storms in Khuzestan…
Now and then, gaining momentum, albeit far from the headlines, the national media publish dozens of pictures: many rivers and lakes have dried up and their beds are filled with rubbish.
Occasionally a short text accompanies the picture galleries. However, there is no analysis from environmentalists, bioscientists or any other people concerned. The expressed views, when they are published, are in the form of articles fewer than 200 words, reporting the promise of an uncommitted authority to do something in an imprecise future to solve the problem. Often, the locals are blamed for wasting water and dumping rubbish wherever they choose. The shortcomings of the administrations, the political institutions cultivating them, and the men running them are not to be spelled out.
The websites and blog posts published in the provinces are more concerned about environmental issues and produce more descriptive articles on water shortages, piles of rubbish found in dried river and lake banks, polluted areas, wasted water and sewage mud dumped carelessly.
Some report citizens’ actions: a day spent picking up rubbish in an area and taking pictures for the benefit of their social media accounts. No one says what becomes of the litter bags collected.
All the pictures show what can be seen: polluted air, darkening horizon, filth and rubbish piling up and dried riverbeds.
However, the publication of the visible pollution is only the tip of the soaring depletion of the natural resources. The insidious pollution, due to elements needing lab analysis to determine the level of harm, such as chemicals and petrochemicals, cannot be measured in images and is therefore ignored.
There is a consensus that illnesses and death numbers due to pollution are soaring fast. However, reliable data is not available, and the causes are not investigated.
The Iranians pride themselves on being educated, mature and worldly as a population. Do they, as a nation, take environmental issues seriously? Serious to the point of questioning their personal behaviour and further pressing the leadership and the government to be responsible?
The responsibility for climate change, global warming and environmental deterioration is shared by all humans regardless of their nationalities and beliefs. Avoiding pollution, recycling and cleaning a country’s environment is the responsibility of the State by regulating the economic activities. Goals can be set and reached if, and only if, citizens are cognisant of the importance of the issues involved and take them into account in their activities.
The Iranian bureaucracy is made of a bunch of ass-kissing sycophants incapable of efficiency and management, but well organised in corruption. Billions of rials are promised for piecemeal projects, which are often downsized or buried in conflicting planning from various departments and personality clashes. The middle managers are on the lookout for their personal cuts in proportion to their influence.
The citizens’ malleable, improvident and undisciplined behaviour adds another perspective to the country’s environmental unruliness.
Water is there to be wasted when the tap runs; rice and vegetables are washed with obsession many times under the tap’s running water to cleanse them even from pesticides. Chasing leaves, debris and dirt with a hose from tiled yards and pavement is a part of urban habits. Millions of cubic metres of squandered water fill the sewage systems.
As long as there is no smell of rotting waste in the close neighbourhood, no one is bothered about this. Where is rubbish is taken to? To open-air dump sites? Thrown onto country roadsides and riverbeds?
What then of rural areas, villages and hamlets, far from the urban areas? Throughout the centuries, many were built around a water supply point: a spring, a stream, or the underground canals (Qanat, Kariz, Turpan water system).
Global warming, succeeding droughts, and also to a large extent, the mismanagement of the water supply, have contributed to drying up the resources. The natural drinking water in rural areas has vanished; land cultivation and farming have dramatically plummeted.
Usually, when looking for unbiased analysis, one relies on scientific evidence and academic papers. Even the Iranian academic papers suffer from censorship and self-censorship on environmental issues. The papers elaborately avoid discussing the human or social factors, too political. They stay on the safe grounds of the review of the world’s literature and the statistical analysis.
The papers published in the West, where the academics have freedom of expression, are more reliable, but are in want of raw data and fieldwork. Bluntly put, doing fieldwork in Iran, even to analyse the rubbish and possible recycling, may well be considered as spying for the enemy. In recent years, the soaring imprisonment of dual national academics visiting Iran bears witness to the phenomenon.
Therefore, we searched the Iranian media and blog posts. We were soon overwhelmed by the pictures of the visible pollution that speaks volumes if scrutinised carefully. We have reproduced them in separate blog posts, attempting to have an overview on the issues of water and pollution. However, each picture tells a much longer story and touches upon many subjects. It also tells a story of the triangle of religious ideology, repression and crippling mismanagement.
The stories range from a deepening division between the rich and the poor, from apathy to frustration, and reveal the contrasts between the rural and the urban areas.
As Iranians, we like to believe in our country as the land of flowers and nightingales, گل و بلبل, equivalent to the land of milk and honey. However, the observation of dry riverbeds filled with rubbish, water shortages, air pollution and the insidious advance of the silent killers says otherwise.
Our beliefs and chauvinistic views on our country are in contrast to the realities; our Islamic laws fall short of cleaning the environment.
We are all responsible, no one will mop up for us.
References: Click to link.