Iran’s Southern Regions Hard Hit by Flash Floods

8th April 2019 – Torrential rains have caused massive flooding in many parts of Iran in the past few weeks. Water levels have been rising at an alarming rate in most dams in the southern province of Khuzestan. Authorities have evacuated 210 villages and towns in Khuzestan so far. Floodwaters have destroyed 47,000 homes and displaced 50,000 people who are living in temporary shelters.

“Floodwaters have submerged 78 villages, severely damaged 62,000 homes and are threatening another 51,000,” according to Kiamars Hajizadeh, the head of the Khuzestan Disaster Management Center.

The Governor-General of Khuzestan Gholamreza Shariati warned: “Karkheh Dam is in danger of overflowing despite a small volume of water flowing into its reservoir. The situation could pose a threat to surrounding villages. Many people in Karkheh have refused to leave their homes. Some have set up tents on rooftops. However, the authorities have evacuated women, children and the elderly.”

“Close to 2,000 cubic meters of water enters Karkheh Dam every second. We have evacuated the residents of a dozen cities as a precautionary measure,” Mr. Shariati said. “The volume of drainage of Karkheh basin has remained the same. However, we have increased water drainage for Karun River near the capital Ahvaz to 3,200 cubic meters per second.”

Footage posted on social media shows Governor Shariati locked in a heated exchange with an angry resident who accuses the government of “working for Syria and Arab countries” instead of looking after Iranian citizens. Mr. Shariati responds: “Don’t talk nonsense. You are against the [Islamic Republic] system. Don’t be so rude. Go away.”

Despite assurances by Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli regarding safety measures in Ahvaz, water has destroyed many floodwalls, causing the evacuation of surrounding towns, including the city of Sheyban with the population of 40,000. Emergency services have moved all bedridden patients from the city’s main Golestan Hospital.

Ahvaz, Khuzestan. Source: Kayhan London

“We cannot predict the path of the floodwaters and, therefore, have no choice but to evacuate most villages and cities. Otherwise, some people may suddenly find themselves surrounded by water,” Hamidreza Khodabakhshi, special assistant to the managing director of Khuzestan Province’s Water and Electricity Organization, said. “Gotvand, Karun-3, and Karun-4 dams are also in danger of overflowing. Since the start of the Iranian New Year (March 21) the volume of floodwaters has reached 8.7 billion cubic meters which, respectively, is 43 and 93 times the amount of water in Karaj Dam and Latyan Dam.”

There are conflicting reports about the financial damages incurred by the flood. According to Fatemeh Zolghadr, a Majlis (Iranian Parliament) deputy representing Tehran, Rey, Shemiranat and Eslamshahr, the initial estimate puts the amount at around $7.2 billion.

Mohammad Reza Tabesh, a member of Majlis’ Economic Committee, has, however, said damages in the flood-ridden provinces alone stood at $4.8 billion, but the figure for the entire country was $11.9 billion.

It is unclear how the government plans to provide financial help to the affected regions. Some deputies have proposed an amendment to the government’s budget to provide financial relief to people in the flood-stricken areas. Others, however, have argued that money should come by reallocating funds in the current budget.

Mrs. Zolghadr said Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had approved a request by President Hassan Rouhani to use 2 billion euros from the National Development Fund of Iran (NDFI) to help people in the affected provinces. The NDFI is a wealth fund independent of the government’s budget, set up in 2011 to supplement the country’s oil revenue. The government had previously announced that NDFI’s cash reserve was severely depleted.

A man drives his motorbike through a flooded road after flooding in Mazandaran province, Iran, March 22, 2019. Picture taken March 22, 2019. Reuters

“The NDFI should be the primary source of financial help. Although a large part of its cash reserve has already been used, it could still help with the relief efforts,” Mr. Tabesh said. “The government’s budget for 2018-19 stands at $205 billion. We can still use some of that money to help these people. The government can also issue bonds and generate funds by selling state surplus property and state-owned companies.”

Meanwhile, people in at least 25 provinces are without water, food, shelter, and medicine. Footage shared on social media shows a desperate woman in Hamidiyeh saying she and her small children had not eaten for days. An aid worker reassures her they would come back with food soon.

Another footage posted on social media shows jubilant people of Hamidiyeh after repairing the damaged flood barriers on April 7 shouting “We brought flood and government to tears.” Some Arab residents say the government has deliberately ignored their flood-stricken region. They do not trust the government. Despite the repeated warning, many people have refused to leave their homes.

Many foreign governments have provided financial and non-monetary helps to Iran. The German Red Cross (DRK) has given 300,000 euros towards the relief efforts. According to Ali Asghar Peyvandi, the head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, $17 million has been donated to the organization which exceeds the amount raised in 2017 to help the victims of Kermanshah earthquake.

Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi