Iran's pollution woes tied to regime's fixation on military spending

By Al-Mashareq

Tehran is seen on April 8 under a thick blanket of smog and debris. [Farhikhtegan daily]

Tehran is seen on April 8 under a thick blanket of smog and debris. [Farhikhtegan daily]

Iran, which has struggled with chronic air pollution issues, recorded the worst air quality it has seen in many years between April 7 and 11, when the pollution index in Tehran hovered in the "dangerous" category.

Typically the major cities -- Tehran in particular -- bear the brunt of the smog, but this time, the entire country's air, even the usually pristine air of northern Iran by the Caspian Sea, was heavily polluted with smog, dust and debris.

Thanks to high winds, pollution decreased after April 12, albeit not drastically, but the question remains: why was the entire country so polluted this year?

In response to the public concern, Iranian officials blamed the pollution on a sandstorm in the Gulf, a dam built by Turkey, climate change and desertification.

Conservative domestic news outlets call the deadly pollution "an unwanted foreign guest" in an attempt to evade the facts and deceive the Iranian people.

Misplaced priorities

Subpar gasoline and substandard industry fuel are two of the main reasons for pollution in large Iranian cities -- a fact that all administrations preceding that of president Ebrahim Raisi have acknowledged.

But Raisi and his predecessors have tried to blame the sale of pollutant gasoline on the US sanctions imposed on Iran for its nuclear activities and expansionist policies, observers said, as they have done with almost any problem.

Under Raisi's administration, they noted, there are more blaming and less action.

The administration has drastically increased the budget for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the IRGC Quds Force (IRGC-QF), and even the conventional armed forces (Artesh).

Meanwhile, the already insufficient subsidies for combating pollution, debris and climate change were removed from this year's budget.

This clearly demonstrates the regime's priorities, observers said, and shows that the government is willing to see the public, especially sensitive groups, suffer while it chases its expansionist policies and meddles in other countries' affairs.

While desertification, drought and deadly pollution threaten Iranian lives and livelihoods, the Raisi administration, staunchly supported by Iranian leader Ali Khamenei, spends the lion's share of taxpayer money on its military forces.

"I technically live in the middle of the forest," said Firouz, a rice farmer in Gilan, northern Iran.

"I have never seen the sky like this; you can barely see two metres ahead," he said. "People come to the north to escape pollution, but it seems like the north also has become polluted."

Public malaise

Hannah, a 9-year-old living in Mazandaran, northern Iran, said she is very upset that she has not been able to go outside and play in the past week.

"My parents said we would move out of Tehran to breathe better air. But now, pollution is here, too," she said.

COVID-19 measures kept all government offices, schools and universities closed for two years, while students studied at home and government employees teleworked.

In early April, schools and businesses fully reopened, but the relief was short-lived as after just three days, smog became so prevalent across the country that the Ministry of Health warned citizens against leaving their houses.

Although many returned to work and school on April 11, there continues to be serious concern about air quality, as the government does not appear to be taking any action to help remedy the situation.

The Raisi administration has not allocated any money to combat pollution, lower the price of unleaded gasoline or attempt to fight climate change.

"The regime intends to shift the blame and hide behind climate change, sandstorms, lack of wind, or neighbouring countries' infrastructure projects," said Iran-based environmentalist Kambiz Massoudi.

"Although each of these is a reason for air pollution, each could be remedied to an extent," he said.

Meanwhile, the government has made the life of environmentalists hard, accusing many of espionage, detaining them and handing down heavy prison sentences to them in the past few years.

Human Rights Watch has condemned the regime's crackdown on environmentalists, saying that the "unjust sentences" against them are just "another hallmark of the abusive nature of Iran's revolutionary courts".

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