The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, on February 23rd visited the province of Khuzestan where an environmental disaster has been unfolding in recent years. The province has experienced historic dust storms and has to deal with some of the world’s most polluted air conditions, an environmental calamity that has recently been exacerbated by floods. In Khuzestan, Rouhani stated that his government will “form a crisis management committee” to consider options to deal with the environmental disaster and agonizing interruptions to water and electricity services to the people of Khuzestan. One Iranian outlet reported that Rouhani has received reports from relevant ministers in his cabinet that “water distribution issues will be resolved in the coming days.”
Comment: Such pledges by Rouhani about quick fixes to long-lasting environmental calamities impacting Khuzestan are merely political posturing. Khuzestan, a southwestern province on the border with Iraq, is not only home to about 65 per cent of Iran’s oil fields but is also home to most of Iran’s Arab minority. For long, many of the residents of this province have felt that the oil wealth of the province is disproportionately benefiting the rest of the country. At times, local grievances have reached such levels that armed attacks on government facilities have occurred, including oil pipelines. The degree of anger in Khuzestan is such that on February 20, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asked for swift government action, which is why Rouhani and some of his ministers within days arrived in the province. However, even members of the Iranian parliament who represent the province have been warning for many months that the authorities in Tehran have for too long been ignoring the province.