Iran’s minority regions bear brunt of climate change

Three months after flash floods submerged large swaths of Iran and nearly two years after a massive earthquake devastated its western Kermanshah Province, the suffering of crisis-stricken Iranians seems to have been consigned to oblivion. 

Paralyzed by crushing US sanctions, the government of President Hassan Rouhani has performed poorly in delivering aid to people living in the affected areas, and construction efforts have been dismally sluggish as thousands of Iranians are still homeless and living in shelters and makeshift camps.

No where is that suffering more obvious than Iran’s already neglected minority regions, which have born the brunt of climate change and snowballing natural disasters.

Minorities left behind

Unprecedented floods that started in mid-March and continued for more than one month ripped through 26 of Iran’s 31 provinces. They were believed to have claimed 76 lives and caused more than US$2.2 billion in damages, including hundreds of bridges and thousands of kilometers of roads.

One of the provinces most affected by the flooding was Khuzestan, an Arab-majority region bordering southern Iraq and the Persian Gulf. Other affected regions were Golestan, a Sunni-majority province with a sizable Turkmen population, and Lorestan, whose inhabitants – the Lurs – are an ethnic minority.

The agricultural sector was mutilated in a usually arid country, which relies on seasonal rainfall to sustain its national water supply and agronomy. Some cities were reported to have received 70% of their annual rainfall in the span of only five days, and entire communities were submerged. 

The flash floods were only the latest natural disaster to hit the country. Nearly two years ago, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck the Iran-Iraq border province of Kermanshah, killing 574 people and leaving 70,000 homeless in the Kurdish-majority region. 

According to Mansour Moradi, a member of Iran’s parliament, the earthquake inflicted more than $152 million in damages, and the region has still not recovered from the woes of that deadly tremor.

Despite significant donations by Iranian people and popular efforts led by celebrities and domestic charity organizations, hundreds of Kermanshah citizens and villagers still live in temporary shelters and have not received any assistance from the government to reconstruct their ravaged homes or move to nearby cities where affordable housing is available. 

“These natural disasters mostly hit provinces with a sizable non-Persian, ethnic population,” Dr Ali Fathollah-Nejad, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, told Asia Times. 

They are suffering the brunt of climate change, combined with disproportionate socio-economic stagnation, which has translated into high levels of public frustration with the central government, he said.

“This mixture of grievances also provides the basis for anti-regime activism,” he warned.

Climate change doubled

Meanwhile, the hardships of climate change appear set to grow. According to Zahra Falahat, the Iranian Red Crescent’s under-secretary-general for international affairs and international humanitarian law, the March and April flooding was the “largest disaster to hit Iran in more than 15 years.”

The head of Iran’s Meteorological Organization, Sahar Tajbakhsh, said the floods were a direct result of climate change and global warming.