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Iran’s Air Pollution Crisis: a Silent Killer


City lights are dim, one can hardly see a few meters ahead, and sounds of repeated coughing echo throughout the street. The haze and polluted air prepare to deprive Iranians of their one last freedom: breathing.

Many schools and workshops have been closed in recent days due to the dangerous levels of air pollution.

Climate change has affected the entire world, including Iran. At first glance, Iran’s dangerous air pollution and haze problem are part of a global crisis, but a closer look shows the mullahs’ fingerprints.

On May 17, Iran’s state-run media quoted the country’s air quality control agency, identifying Tehran as “today’s most polluted city worldwide.”

“The air pollution index in Tehran today was at 441, and the air quality was dangerous. Now the index decreased to 226, which is still very hazardous,” the state-run Fararou website reported.

Based on the Air Quality Index, which measures the density of pollutants, Iran is a country where people can hardly breathe.

The index runs from 0 to 500, and the higher the number, the greater the level of air pollution. According to this index, the number from 301 to 500 indicates “dangerous” air quality. So the situation in Iran is perilous.

In 2021, Iran’s state-run media acknowledged air pollution kills nearly 41,000 Iranians per year. Since 2021, Iran’s tightly controlled media have ceased reporting about the annual fatalities due to the country’s air pollution. This cover-up suggests that the actual death toll is much higher.

“Prolonged exposure to PM2.5 particulate matter in the country annually causes 41,700 premature deaths,” the official IRNA News Agency reported in June 2021, quoting Abbas Shahouni, then a health ministry official. In other words, 114 Iranians lose their lives every day.

The Iranian regime’s engineered numbers suggest that during the Iran-Iraq war, Iran’s average daily death toll hovered around 115, meaning that air pollution kills as many Iranians as the Iran-Iraq war did.

It is safe to say that this ‘war’ is part of the more significant conflict between people and the regime since the mullahs’ policies directly affect Iran’s air crisis.

Understanding the regime’s role in Air pollution

There are several reasons for Iran’s highly polluted air, including the extensive use of fuel oil in large industries, especially thermal power plants, mass production of low-quality cars with high fuel consumption, the rapid growth of slums in cities due to poverty, low-quality constructions, as well as the building of unscientific dams, and drying wetlands which result in the haze.

Using Fuel Oil (Mazut)

Mazut is a heavy, low-quality fuel oil banned by many countries due to its air-polluting effects. Unlike Iran, mazut is blended or broken down in western countries.

In January 2021, the state-run Arman-e Meli acknowledged, “Our power plants and industries have been burning this fuel for years. We used to burn five million liters of mazut inside Iran and export 15 million liters to the United Arab Emirates and other countries. Still, the fuel is not exported, and the tanks are full of fuel oil.”

These factories, mainly under the control of the regime’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), use mazut fuel to produce steel, petrochemicals, refineries, etc.

Regime officials have brazenly claimed that Iran lacks sufficient natural gas to use instead of mazut. In contrast, the country’s discovered gas reserves to date hover around 33.2 trillion cubic meters or 17.2% of the world’s total gas reserves.

So, what happens to Iran’s vast natural gas resources? The regime exports it to neighboring countries such as Iraq or smuggles them to Latin America, using the revenue to fund its terrorism and warmongering.

Production of Low-Quality Cars

Like other aspects of Iran’s economy, the IRGC has monopolized Iran’s automotive industry. To increase its production rate, IRGC-dominated automotive industries use low-quality parts and produce cars that consume a lot of fuel. “Light and heavy vehicles and motorcycles have a large share in air pollution. According to the Tehran City Council, their share is about 64% of air pollution during the year,” the state-run Khorasan daily acknowledged in September 2021.

Role of Poverty

There is no need to peer into the gloom to observe how the Iranian regime squanders national wealth to pursue its malign objectives. As a result, Iranians are left in abject poverty. The rising number of shanty towns and people living on the margins of metropoles in Iran show another aspect of the grim face of poverty.

Since the regime refuses to allocate a budget for sanitation in those areas, the rising quantity of the garbage, sewage, and unscientific use of electricity and cheap fuel oil, add to the country’s environmental crises, mainly air pollution.

“The phenomenon of marginalization in an area destroys the ecological balance of that area, depletes groundwater aquifers, intensifies land subsidence, increases electricity, gas consumption and air pollution,” the state-run Rokna news agency reported in September 2021.

Dangerous Haze and IRGC’s Role

In recent days, state media wired photos from southern Iran and Tehran, covered in haze. At the same time, regime officials attribute this phenomenon to climate change and other factors, including building dams in Turkey.

“Owing to mismanagement, Khuzestan is suffering from a natural disaster these days, affecting 4.8 million Khuzestanis. During the last 10 years, due to global warming, dust and haze have become the uninvited guests of Khuzestan,” the semi-official ISNA news agency acknowledged in 2015.

The IRGC has been building dams on the Karun River, drying many important wetlands and lakes such as Lake Urmia in northeast Iran, Hawr-Al-Azim wetland in southwest Iran, and Miankaleh peninsula, Lake Hamoon, Bakhtegan Wetland, etc.

Due to the regime’s destruction of surface water resources, wetlands and lakes have become sources of haze and dust. Many of the pastures and plains of Iran are dying and turning into haze sources due to the abstraction of water.

Take the Miankaleh peninsula, for instance. There have been recent protests by environmentalists about the regime’s decision to build a petrochemical industry in this area, which consumes a lot of water and changes the ecosystem.

In this regard, Isa Kalantari, former Minister of Environment, and a current top official, brazenly lashed at protesters. “People should not hinder the country’s development. The environment is not separated from development. We will not sacrifice the petrochemical industry with one-billion-dollar revenue per month with some land and local dairy products worth less than $60,000,” the state-run Tasnim News agency quoted Kalantari as saying on May 24.

“For people like Isa Kalantari, Miankaleh is just ‘a 90-hectare land’, not a valuable international wetland and a wildlife sanctuary. People like him never realize that when Miankaleh is destroyed, it cannot be recreated. This greed for money sees Miankaleh as a $1 billion petrochemical venture, not the country’s biosphere reserve!” Tasnim added.

One of the reasons for haze and air pollution in Khuzestan is the uncontrolled harvesting and transfer of water from this province to Isfahan. Besides, the IRGC’s ongoing dam construction has resulted in the drying of Hour-al Azim.  When a wetland, lake, or a peninsula dries, a wind is enough to transfer the particles and dust to other parts of the country.

In July 2021, large-scale protests erupted and continued in Khuzestan due to the water shortages and their harmful effects, such as air pollution. Instead of addressing people’s demands, the regime responded with bullets, killing several.

Also read: How IRGC Created and Amplifies Iran’s Water Crisis

Iran’s air pollution is the silent killer of Iranians. Urban air pollution is rapidly increasing due to the regime’s devastating policies. While many countries are trying to implement eco-friendly policies and take significant steps to this end, the Iranian regime continues its disastrous policies, destroying Iran’s rich ecosystem. But why?

Since taking power in 1979, the Iranian regime’s goal has been preserving its grip on power at any cost. The mullahs in Iran have taken all measures to this end, from continuing the devastating war with Iraq, killing thousands of Iranians, squandering national wealth on terrorism, and destroying the environment.

The genocidal regime in Tehran is neither willing nor capable of addressing Iran’s multitudes of problems. Its only solution has been escalating oppression and plunder. The recent ascension of Ebrahim Raisi to the presidency, as an unscrupulous man who participated in the 1988 genocide of tens of thousands of political prisoners, is quite telling of the regime’s “genocidal projects” in all aspects, and the environment is not excluded.