IRAN

Residents struggle to breathe as dust storms batter Iran

For more than a week, a series of dust storms have been battering southwestern Iran, especially the region of Khouzestan and its capital Ahvaz, which is already ranked as the most polluted city in the world by the World Health Organization. Residents have been sharing their photos and their frustration on social media with the hashtag .

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Photo taken by Fateme Pourkaseb and published on Instagram.

For more than a week dust storms have been battering southwestern Iran, especially the region of Khouzestan and its capital Ahvaz, which is already ranked as the most polluted city in the world by the World Health Organization. Residents have been sharing their photos and their frustration on social media using the hashtag #KhouzestanCantBreathe.

Authorities reported that the number of particles in the air was 30 to 60 times higher than what is considered healthy. This resulted in the closure of schools and government offices in 11 different cities (Ahvaz, Abadan, Mahshahr, Hendijan, Dasht-e Azadegan, Karoun, Bavi, Omidiyeh, Hamidieh, Khorramshahr and Ramshir). The government also banned all air travel in and out of Ahvaz.

Photo taken by Mehdi Heydarian and posted on Instagram.

This situation is becoming unliveable for Ahvaz residents, who protested in the streets on Tuesday. They denounced the government’s inaction over the pollution produced by local petrol refineries as well as its failure to hold discussions with Iraq and Saudi Arabia, the neighbouring countries where the dust is coming from, according to a report by the Islamic Republic News Agency.

The signs read, "For our children, we want to breathe!" and "Petrol for you, but give us back our air!" Photo by "My Stealthy Freedom" and posted to Facebook.

"We just want breathable air"

Resa, age 31, lives in Ahvaz.

We find ourselves in the same situation once a month. But for the past week, the storms – which can reach up to 50 metres high – have been coming one after another.

Even in the best of times the air here is unbreathable, but when these sandstorms occur normal life becomes literally impossible. The government authorities have told elderly people and children not to leave their homes.

I do everything I can to keep the sand from coming into the house by stuffing wet towels in the cracks around my doors and windows. But it’s useless. Every morning I clean my house and a few minutes later there is a layer of dust all over my furniture again. When I wash my face, it looks like I am wiping off mud.

I have a shop, but for the past few days I haven’t had a single customer. I am barely working at the moment; I only open my store for a few hours each day.

Photo taken by Amirrmte and posted on Twitter.

Moreover, many people have been going to the hospital because of lung problems. Most people here get migraines. Some people also have eye problems – it is common for people’s eyes to leak all the time. Last year, I myself was hospitalised for respiratory problems. The doctors said they were sure that the air pollution was the cause. Our family doesn’t have a history of cancer but, in the past few years, several people have been diagnosed with it, and I wonder if the pollution is the cause.

We are not asking for much. We just want air that we can breathe and a rapid response from the government. I don’t know what the answer is, but we have to do something if we are to continue living here. The problem is that the air quality issues don’t just come from the sand storms. They are also the result of nearby industries like petrol refineries.

Our only defence against all this is a basic surgical mask. Recently authorities handed out masks for free in the streets. They have also offered free medical treatment for the storm’s victims once the storm has ended.

 

This article was written by FRANCE 24 journalist Anissa Jalab. The interview with the eyewitness was conducted by FRANCE 24 journalist Ershad Alijani.