As this report is being written, massive manmade flooding, hunger, and disease are adding to the existing toll of sufferings after decades of regime abuse. The Ahwazis face a catastrophe of Biblical proportions, and it is largely being enabled by the international community’s silence, which has the same effect as deliberate complicity with the regime.
The devastating fact is that the crises facing the Ahwazi people are not the result of natural disasters, but of deliberate human negligence, racism and persecution, with the regime both driving and exploiting climate change through its disastrous policies as another tool to use against the people. The world’s continuing silence as the horrific conditions for millions of Ahwazis in the south and southwest of Iran grow worse by the day is nothing short of a continuing shame on humanity.
The children of Ahwaz are worst affected not only by the current massive flooding, which has displaced more than 250,000 people, resulting in a lack of shelter, food, medicine, hygiene facilities and clean drinking water, which has, in turn, led to outbreaks of disease but by a deliberate and systematic policy by which a region once famed as a breadbasket for the region is being turned into a wasteland as the regime sets out to finish its longstanding goal to dispossess and disenfranchise the Ahwazi people.
As the month of Ramadan begins, the displaced see no relief, beginning this month in unimaginable and worsening conditions, especially in the flood-hit areas. Thousands left destitute after fleeing their homes are stranded with no shelter in areas where the searing summer temperatures routinely hit 120o Fahrenheit. The disease is spreading, especially among the most vulnerable – the very young and very old – due to the heat and lack of medicines or even clean water.
The people have received no help from the regime, with the infamous Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) instead deploying sectarian foreign militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah, the Iraqi Hashd al Shaabi and the Afghani Fatemiyoun, who are attacking the dispossessed peoples who protest in any way. Meanwhile, aid supplied for the people is flagrantly stolen by the IRGC and militias before reaching the people, often reappearing in regime-dominated areas where it is sold at a profit.
Hundreds of children are already suffering from various illnesses, including dysentery and various skin conditions, due to the lack of clean water and even the most basic hygiene facilities. Ahwazi families in the area report that they and their children, including newborn babies, have been left without any food, medicine or other aid, stranded with only flimsy tents in the searing heat. In addition, there have been many reports from the camps that large numbers of scorpions, venomous snakes and other dangerous creatures are plaguing the residents, who must travel several miles to reach any hospital for treatment.
Mohammed Kaabi, whose 14-member family were among those driven out of their home in Hamidiyeh by the flooding, told DIRS: “Ramadan has arrived. And we don’t have the most basic essentials of life including water, electricity and cooling equipment! Living in such threadbare camps does not prevent us from the bitter cold of winter, nor does it shield us from the searing heat of summer, especially in June and July.”
Mohammed said that he has been forced by these circumstances and lack of options to rely on sporadic deliveries of humanitarian aid, on those occasions when the aid gets through: “I don’t know how I can earn a living for myself and my children,” he said, explaining, “you know, in the month of Ramadan the families’ spending increases.”
He also pointed out that he and his family are now totally reliant on humanitarian aid from fellow Ahwazis and other peoples across the region and added that the arrival of Ramadan has added another layer of suffering, saying, “Even in ordinary times before the flooding, we had difficulties in earning our living due to the lack of essential commodities here. In the month of Ramadan, given the searing heat and the long fasting hours, which can go up to 15 hours, things get more difficult.”
Abdullah Badawi, a father of young children whose family members have been left destitute by the flooding, said his family have received no aid for a month, adding, “It’s now summer, and the holy month of Ramadan is at the door. We have nothing to protect us from the searing heat of the sun. As you see, we don’t even have enough food or water.”
Even before the latest flooding, Ahwazi children had become used to going to bed hungry, with the flooding exacerbating their suffering. Severe malnutrition now affects hundreds of thousands. Many are trapped in a cycle of poverty, being too poor to attend school or receiving only the most rudimentary education in overcrowded, deliberately undersupplied classrooms, leaving them ill-equipped to have any hope of escaping the hopeless poverty.
Many Ahwazis feel a sense of despair on their children’s behalf, sensing that they have been wholly forgotten or simply dismissed by the world as numbers, not cherished children with names, faces, characters, friends, hopes, dreams and stories; their dreams are quashed and their lives spoiled before they have even begun.
Meanwhile, the IRIB News Agency conducted a number of interviews with some of the quarter-million Ahwazis left destitute by the flooding:
Journalist: “All of these lands were destroyed by the floods. These are agricultural lands but were destroyed. As you can see, all these lands are farming lands belonging to some Ahwazi farmers, but all were destroyed. People’s lives are related to these lands.”
First interviewee: “People here don’t have anything. They only own these agricultural lands that have been destroyed by the floods.”
“All you see here is water, where all the people’s homes, their belongings and their lands have been ruined by the floods. And all the people left their homes in this area. No-one can live in these houses because they have been completely wrecked by the floods.”
Journalist: “The depth of the water is meters high; I don’t know how the water will be dried in this area and I don’t know how people can return to their homes.”
Second interviewee: “My house was here in this village, named Banda in Khafajiyeh. But the house is completely destroyed by the floods so it collapsed. We are here to protect our lives, but here there are no simple possibilities and facilities, for example there is no bathroom and toilet here.”
“The government gave us tents to live temporarily in, but they did not give us anything else. Ahwazi citizens are the only ones who give us food and drink and not the government.”
Third interviewee: “We were all waiting for the harvest, but now all our agricultural lands, wheat and palm trees are destroyed. We do not have anything now. All our lives and our property and belongings have been destroyed. All you see here is water, ruin and destruction. We request support and assistance. We need support so that we can continue our lives.”
Forth interviewee (woman): “The atmosphere here is very hot and there are dangerous insects in the area so we need support so that we can continue and do not face major problems.”
Journalist: “Here is a village near the city of Hamidiyeh, which is 31 kilometres from the capital Ahwaz – but all you see is water and the village has also been destroyed and all its inhabitants have been displaced. The roads are all closed to the village because of the water and because the village is surrounded by floods. The only way to reach the village is by boat.”
Fifth interviewee: “The depth of the water inside the houses in our village exceeds 1.5 meters and all the furniture in the homes is inside the houses so it’s all been damaged by the water. There are a large number of snakes in the water and it’s very dangerous. We are afraid for our children.”
Journalist: “These are the inhabitants of the village of Al-Shakariya on the outskirts of the city of Hamidiyeh, which were destroyed by the floods; all its residents are displaced and are currently living in tents.
Our lives are all affected by the flood, and we are afraid that we will be in this situation for five months and more. The situation is tragic.
We have nothing because all our belongings have been ruined. We only have this tent. But the weather is sweltering, and it is very difficult to sleep in a tent. The Red Crescent came here and gave us tents and blankets. But the food has an unpleasant, rotten smell.”
Sixth interviewee: “Our problem is not eating and drinking. I do not have anything to fear. All we had has been destroyed by the floods. Our homes and agricultural lands were all drowned, and my family was displaced. But we need you to send our voices to our leaders: We are not beggars. But we need help and resolve this crisis. Our wheat and barley have been destroyed by the floods.”
Seventh interviewee, an elderly lady: “Our lands have been damaged, and as you see, we are six people living in this tent because our houses were devastated. We lost everything because of the floods, and we only have these clothes.
The atmosphere is extremely hot here, and the weather will become scorching in the next ten days. [weeping]. All my wealth and belongings were completely destroyed. What I want to know is how the government wants to help. When does the government want to help? After a day or two or after ten years? They should set the time for us. “
Journalist: “Here is the city of Al-Hayyi, 35 kilometres north of Ahwaz, the capital.”
Eighth interviewee: “Our area has been destroyed and we need support and assistance. Officials are supposed to come here and see the situation with their eyes.”
Ninth interviewee: “This water causes diseases in children. Look at my child here, getting ill, but I don’t know how to help. I also lost all my possessions such as my orchards, home, and everything I owned.”
Journalist: “Look at the insects. These insects bother people, especially children. All these children are facing health problems by the insects. Look at their faces. These areas need to be well dealt until people’s crisis ends.”
Tenth interviewer (woman): “We do not need anything; we just need to stay alive until we go back to our homes. It is 11 AM now and the weather is sweltering. What do you expect it will be like after a few hours? The weather will be scorching in here, and we have kids. We want to go back to our homes, so support us until our crisis ends. This elderly woman suffers from a health crisis and cannot speak.”
Journalist: “Here is the Ain 2 area in the city of Ahwaz, which is 10 km from the city centre. As you can see, in fact, the floods have reached many neighbourhoods of the city of Ahwaz. As you can see, many homes are affected by the floods. However, people here voluntarily built berms and barriers to protect their area. In fact, these berms stopped the catastrophic danger that was threatening the residential area.
Journalist: “These barriers and berms have stopped the flooding. The flood was nearly to reach the depth of the city of Ahwaz, but these barriers, which the people built, have prevented the flood disaster.”
Meanwhile, another brief report from an Iranian regime channel gave a brief report revealing at least some of the massive scale of the flood damage to Ahwazi areas:
“Residents of 274 villages generally left their homes, wholly and partially, Serious damage to 800 housing units in cities and 8700 housing in rural areas, 250,000 people displaced, The displacement of 54,000 students, 120 schools damaged, damage to 30 thousand hectares of sugarcane farms, more than 1,000 billion tomans distributed to the agricultural sector ($80 M). More than 7,000 billion tomans ($560 M) damaged to Sugarcane, 645 billion Tomans ($65 M) damage to the Road Infrastructure.”
According to Iranian sources, more than 12500 billion tomans ($800 M) have been distributed to Ahwaz. Perhaps the regime means that 12500 billion tomans have been diverted to pay the IRGC and its terrorist allies. It has certainly not reached the people who so desperately need it.
As this report is being written, the United States has deployed an aircraft carrier strike group and bomber strike force to publicly remind the regime that its threats to other nations in the region will not be tolerated. What we ask is for the world to look at more than the headlines, at more than the antics of the regime’s foreign policy or the rockets that it paid for so that Hamas can export its revolution.
Ahwaz is at the centre of the regime’s scheming, and its people are the regime’s favourite victims. It is only through the world’s silence that the regime can continue to persecute us in the hope that our children and we will die. But despite the best efforts of the regime to keep us uneducated, destitute, and powerless, we have endured. And we ask only that the world do more than pay lip service to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We are still here. We are still suffering. But we still have a crucial role to play if the nations of the world are serious about holding the Iranian regime to account. This is a time of change in the Middle East, and we are extending our hand not only for help but to be a part of positive change.
By Rahim Hamid, an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. Hamid tweets under @Samireza42.