When it comes to dust storms, there only seems to be bad news for oil-rich Khuzestan Province.
The embattled southwestern province has roughly 400,000 hectares of barren land that exacerbate its near permanent struggle with dust storms that mostly originate in neighboring Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
To make matters worse, the provincial sources of dust storms are getting bigger and the Department of Environment does not have enough funds to put an end to it, according to the head of the department, Massoumeh Ebtekar.
“Due to prolonged drought, sources of dust storms in the province are growing at an alarming rate,” she told ILNA, adding that funds sought by her department to battle the phenomenon were not granted.
Previous reports put the necessary funding at $1.45 billion.
“Even if we were to receive the funding in full, it would be impossible to address the problem in the short-term. Due to the massive scale of the issue, reforesting even 50,000 hectares a year would not help solve the problem,” she admitted.
Therefore, the DOE has devised a ten-year plan and has partially implemented it, including measures such as purchasing air purifiers and upgrading early-warning systems, “which enable us to forecast dust storms and (temporarily) close schools.”
The official said her department is devising province-specific schemes to help curb a problem that has affected more than two-thirds of the country.
Since the largest sources of dust storms in the Middle East are located in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, an international effort is crucial to help end the crisis, said Ebtekar, who doubles as a vice president.
Seeking UN Intervention
“Through months of lobbying we managed to pass a resolution in the UN General Assembly that obliges all affected parties to convene and brainstorm solutions,” she said, adding that regional countries’ inaction “forced us to take this higher up.”
Despite its huge internal struggle with terrorists, Iraq has shown some interest in working toward ending the regional plight that has imposed a high toll in human life and massive economic cost on governments, but the Saudis have shown no interest whatsoever in environmental cooperation.
One of the largest sources of dust storms in Khuzestan is the Hoor al-Azim Wetland, which is a transboundary lagoon between Iran and Iraq. Old and obsolete oil extraction methods in Khuzestan and rivers running dry in Iraq have rendered the once thriving wetland all but desiccated.
“We’ve had discussions with Iraqi officials to help revive the lagoon,” Ebtekar said.
Public offices and schools in Khuzestan were closed last Monday due to the dangerously high concentration of PM10 (particulate matter with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less) in the air.
Concentration of PM10 in the provincial capital Ahvaz reached 9,977 µg/m3 — 66 times the standard — last Saturday and over 5,000 µg/m3 in most other cities. The acceptable daily average for PM10 is 150 µg/m3.
In February 2015, massive dust storms hit Khuzestan, locking everyone indoors, crippling the entire oil province and filling emergency rooms with people complaining of breathing difficulties and other ailments.
Khuzestan is expected to witness more dust storms in the coming weeks, but DOE officials say they will not be as intense as last year due to the province’s relatively higher humidity compared to the year before.