Above picture: Sarab Ghanbar in Kermanshah, early April 2017.
Quote from the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB): The beautiful nature of the area, the unspoiled nature and unique scenery, as well as proximity to the city Kermanshah is one of the characteristics of the Sarab Ghanbar in Kermanshah. It welcomes the tourists during all different seasons of the year.
In Tehran, and the large provincial towns, a Western consumerist lifestyle is embraced. The local bazaar, a parody of consumer societies without any of its advantages, abounds in goods brought into the country legally or smuggled.
The Iranians are the eager consumers of packaged food and bottled drinks. The modern ways of life, such as wraps, disposable items (PET, nappies, razors, plastic cookery) have invaded their daily lives. Plastic bags are offered generously for the items bought; millions of cars are driven, the tyres replaced, the motor oil changed, the engines and bodies repaired. Where do the urban garbage and litter go? Once the old and poorly maintained sewage systems of the urban areas have collected the waste water what happens to it?
All the rubbish goes to the rivers, or to be precise, it fills the dried riverbeds in want of rain or an occasional flash flood to be taken further away from the urban areas, Inshallah. Cracked and dry riverbeds filled with rubbish, untreated broth from sewers running loose on them, dead trees, scorched banks and the carcasses of fauna are photographed from too many locations in the country.
The Caspian Sea soon might be baptised Another Dead Sea.
The Persian Gulf is where tonnes of the Persian Rubbish are dumped every day. Calling the Persian Gulf the Arabian Gulf, as some do in the West, ruffles the Iranians’ feathers, but filling it with their own rubbish does not matter to them.
In the town of Kermanshah, the Abshouran river is emblematic of what the many streams running within towns in Iran have become.
The Abshouran starts from the Sarab Ghanbar, a spring well. For many centuries, the spring wells were the pride of the area. Cool water, even in the summer heat, sprang to life from the mountain rocks, creating a lake before winding its way through the town or its outskirts, and joining the Gamassiab river.
These spring wells have now dried by a combination of drought and a dam or two built higher up. The water is replaced by heaps of filth, dead fish, and ponds of polluted water here and there.
The beautiful pictures found today on the touristic brochures or Google maps are either from a far away past or simply Photoshopped.
The Iran-Iraq war (1981-88) affected Kermanshah in many ways. One of which was the waves of immigrants from villages and hamlets, looking for safety from the war and a job.
The town extended: unplanned and fast. To accommodate the newcomers, the green belt of market-gardens and fruit yards surrounding the town was destroyed and replaced by houses and activity zones; the old brick buildings, large with inner courtyards, were demolished and the land divided into small plots to provide space for the new concrete structures, haphazardly developed.
Since the mid-1990s the population has grown by about 37%, based on statistical modelling (from 692,000 to 947,000). The Minister of Employment admits to a guesstimate of 65% in regard to the unemployment rate, which does not say much about the poverty of those employed but that cannot provide for their families.
As Kermanshah has overgrown, the infrastructures have fallen far behind. The Abshouran has become an open-air sewage system and a wasteland to collect rubbish. If there is enough rain in March or April, the water will carry down the litter, filth and grime to the Gamassiab river, which has already received tonnes of them from its other tributaries, including Gharehsou river. The projects to clean up the Abshouran have been discussed for decades. In 2017, the piecemeal plans have not achieved much and the authorities use so many ifs and inshallahs that the hopes of locales for sanitising it may never come true. The Kermanshahis prided themselves on the beauty of the Taghbostan and Bisotoun, watered by the Gharehsou and the Gamassiab rivers, now left with dried beds and filled with litter.
Once in a while, a citizen movement to clean up an area of rubbish takes place. The end result is similar to emptying the Pacific Ocean with a teaspoon.
The Silent Killers: Chemicals
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, carpe diem is the motto. Let’s live today, tomorrow is another day.
Today, nature is dying, water has become scarce and what is left heavily polluted. Riverbeds are filled with the sewage grime and rubbish, a sea of plastic, old vehicle tyres, and animal carcasses including shoals of dead fish. The visible pollution grows, layers after layers. What about tomorrow?
Silence is the word when it comes to the long term effects of chemicals and even the harmful concentration of natural elements that escape the bare eyes, but need laboratory analysis to detect them. Around the world, sciences and new technologies advance fast. The long term effects on human health and the ecosystem, good or bad, lag behind. The industry exploits the novelties to produce and sell goods to the consumers, using the chemicals or the transformed natural elements. The health and environmental workers together with the consumer associations and the NGOs expose the unacceptable long term effects of the chemicals used, item by item or in a cocktail.
This is only possible in open societies, even if going against the interests of some industrial players is best portrayed by the David against Goliath battle. The possibility of exposing and then trying to mop up the mess can only be envisaged when the basic freedoms of expression and the formation of the association are protected.
What of Iran in which the freedom of expression is denied to the citizens and the formation of associations forbidden unless approved by the State to promote only the Islamic Values?
The public’s awareness on many issues, including health and the environment, is razed. The protection of the consumers, permitting public debates and even forcing the legislature to adopt new regulations for the banning of harmful chemicals is void.
Iran is a keen importer of pesticides and chemicals. The Ministry of Agriculture Jihad enthusiastically encourages them; trading companies in chemicals are well established. They not only provide pesticides for agriculture, but also for urban areas plagued with rodents, cockroaches, lice…
After years of worldwide controversies, many chemicals have been forbidden in countries sensitive to public health. However, they are still produced and bought at a bargain price in the international markets for Iranian domestic use. The cocktails of pesticides are used freely and sprinkled carelessly in houses, offices, workshops, arable lands and fruit yards. The surplus is dumped wherever suits the user: in a close by stream, on the field edge, in the back of a farmyard or washed down in the sewage system.
One pesticide, Paraquat, a herbicide, forbidden in Europe since 2007, is widely used, not only on plants but as a very effective suicide method in rural areas.
Paraquat is cheap and handy on the Iranian market.
Cynically, once in a while, the press reports suicides in the rural areas on their back pages, in a paragraph shorter than a tweet. Sometimes, a scientific paper is published by a local faculty on the Medical Management of Paraquat poisoning.
Then nothing happens: nothing to talk about or to care about.
Why the high rate of suicide in the rural communities by Paraquat or any other chemical? Why is the medical management of the poisoning discussed but the product not banned for good?
Who can be bothered to ask such silly questions? We did it and got silly answers: Come on! Are you idle? Don’t you have better things to do?/ ای بابا! بیکاری؟ کار بهتری نداری؟.
The rational answer came from a middleman in the business of trading chemicals: As long as it is cheap to buy and it sells well, I make a profit…
When the technical sheets of any given chemical are asked for by the buyer, the sellers produce them in English. They are totally useless in a Farsi speaking country with multiple dialects spoken in the provinces.
Asbestos, Tyres and Co
The manufacturing of products using asbestos آزبست is negotiated freely, despite the health warnings and the projects to limit its use. The pipes made from asbestos are widely in use for the water networks and sewage systems.
Asbestos are advertised to be environmental friendly and healthy products.
The Iranian car drivers do not care that their brakes use asbestos, or how the old batteries and used engine oil are disposed of, as long as they can drive with substandard petrol on the heavily congested roads. The low quality of the imported petrol makes the smog in Tehran and large towns headlines for a while, and once a providential wind has dispersed it, all is forgotten.
We tried to learn more about the effects of various chemicals and elements such as heavy metals, fine particles, chemical fertilisers, PCB, etc.
However, the academic papers published in Iran abstracts were along the lines of: To date, despite the facts that [a given product] is the most consumed product in Iran and its consumption has increased almost twofold during the last 10 years, no data are available concerning the concentrations of [a given chemical] in [a given product] in the Iranian market.
Not much to go on.
Perceptions of the education and the information have varied from time to time, but what would never change would be the task borne by schools in moulding children into the responsible citizens of tomorrow. A conflicting position to what is taught these days under the theocratic regime, thriving only with old maxims and despotic views.
- A religious or ethnic minority? Repress it.
- Freedom of expression? Stifle it.
- Creativity and motivation? Kill them in the bud.
Fear is the Islamic weapon for obedience; censorship and self-censorship reinforce self-submission to the point that they become intangible. A child grows up as those who have raised him, apathetic with little or no curiosity.
Protecting the environment we live in is the responsibility of all. In the ayatollahs’ realm, the environmental issues are not worth bothering about. The citizens have followed them. Who really cares about layers of rubbish, polluted water and harmful chemicals in the environment? What about the wimpy Iranian academics?
Only a couple of dozen women and men in a population of eighty million take up a plastic bag to pick up rubbish in a park…
As Iranians we should not sit idle and let the ayatollahs do as they want. In 1979, they took the power for their benefit; this can be reversed.
Today, they let the country be wasted and the natural environment ruined with the complicity of the citizens. This cannot be remedied.