Iran’s ecology under threat from oil rush

This is a crucial time for the local people and environment of South West Iran, as the area faces an oil rush prompted by the lifting of sanctions. I agreed to host a meeting in the Lords (alongside Peter Tatchell) to launch a new report on the Ahwaz region because it makes clear that Iran’s ecology matters most to its minority communities whose lives and livelihood are at risk.

International oil companies are flocking to the oil-rich Ahwaz region to secure contracts under the new terms offered by the Iranian government. However, the region is already in the grip of a man-made environmental crisis with Iranian government damming the country’s largest rivers – the Karoun and Karkeh – for hydroelectricity and water diversion to provinces favoured by the ruling elite and marshes drained for oil exploration. The result is desertification in one of Iran’s main food-growing areas.

Khuzestan faces the brunt of this destruction, with the damming of rivers causing riots in the province by ethnic Arabs and Balochis who are indigenous to the region. Water diversion is destroying the marshes and rivers of Khuzestan, disrupting the entire national ecology and ultimately food crop productivity. There is a very real possibility that Iran will produce climate refugees in the near future. The plight of its minorities in the province, representing a population twice the size of Gaza, has been consistently sidelined in international advocacy, media coverage and bilateral diplomatic talks.

Investment by European oil and electricity generating companies is coveted by Iran, which gives the UK a lot of leverage in helping local people achieve sustainable development. Careful environmental management of the region is not only for Khuzestan’s inhabitants, it’s for global wellbeing too.