The drying of the River Karoun is becoming a rallying point for Ahwazi Arabs, who have accused the Iranian regime of presiding over an ecological disaster on a par with the destruction of the Amazon.
Environmental campaigners in Ahwaz City formed a human chain along the Karoun this week in protest at the river diversion project. The mega-project involves the construction of dams and tunnels to divert water away from Iran’s largest river which flows through the city and is essential for farming, drinking water and the local ecology.
Controversy surrounds the Koohrang-3 tunnel, which is currently under construction and is set to transfer 255 million cubic metres of water per annum to Zayandeh Rood in Isfahan. The diverted waters will be used for agro-industrial projects, instead of irrigating traditional Arab lands where food staples are grown, such as rice and wheat. Already, three tunnels transfer around 1.1 billion cubic metres of water from the Karoun and its tributaries to Isfahan every year.
Currently, there are seven dams and tunnels diverting Karoun’s water with a further 19 dams under construction as well as 12 dams on Karkheh river basin and five dams on Jarrahi river basin. Twelve of these dams have built in Lorestan province in the Karoun and Karkheh basins, which store 800 million cubic metres for local use. Two dams have built in Ilam province on Karkheh river basin with annual storage capacity 1.04 billion cubic metres. Three dams have been built in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province on Jarrahi River with annual capacity of 1.24 billion cubic metres. So far, 25 dams with total capacity of 10.44 billion cubic metres have into operation in the Karoun basin. These dams are located in Chahar Mahaal and Bakhtiari province, Lorestan province and the north part of Al-Ahwaz (Khuzestan).
Due to the dam projects, around half the Karoun’s water flow is now waste water. This will reach 90 per cent when Iran’s dam building project is completed, according to Iranian scientists. The Karkheh and Jarrahi tributaries are now almost dried up and Ahwazi activists fear the Karoun – Iran’s only navigable river – will now dry up. Already, the region’s marshlands on which many Ahwazi Arabs traditionally depend for their livelihoods are a fraction of their former size due to the dam projects.
One of the groups campaigning against the destruction of the Karoun, the Patriotic Arab Democratic Movement in Ahwaz (PADMAZ), has claimed that as a result of the dam projects “the Ahwazi environment will be destroyed and Ahwazi Arab will be forced to move to other cities in addition to contracting intestinal and renal diseases and different kinds of cancer… This will speed up the Iranian colonial plan of ethnic cleansing of Ahwazi Arabs.”