Environment
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Fate of Dust Storm Budget Uncertain

The allocation of $150 million from the National Development Fund of Iran to combat dust storm in southern provinces proposed in the budget bill was suspended by lawmakers
Some 700 people have referred to medical centers in Khuzestan for respiratory problems.  Some 700 people have referred to medical centers in Khuzestan for respiratory problems.
Over the past few days, the concentration of dust particles exceeded the standard level by nearly 20 times in certain areas of Khuzestan Province

While a huge wave of dust storm has shrouded Iran's southern provinces since Friday, the suspension of funds for combating the phenomenon in the proposed budget bill and contradictory statements by officials have raised concerns.

Apart from the 5.7 trillion rials ($12.5 million) allocated to the Department of Environment, the bill for the next Iranian year (starting March 21) had envisioned $150 million from the National Development Fund of Iran for implementing measures to control dust storms in the south, particularly Khuzestan Province, ISNA reported.

However, the fund was suspended by Majlis Joint Commission because withdrawal from NDFI requires a permit from the Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.

Speaking to reporters, Karim Shafei, DOE's deputy for legal and parliamentary affairs, expressed regret over the elimination of the budget and called upon the commission to reconsider the proposal.

During a parliamentary session on Sunday, Gholamreza Tajgardoun, the head of the joint commission, criticized the government for including the dust storm fund in the budget bill without prior permission "to keep the dear people of Khuzestan in abeyance for their irresponsible decisions as usual".

He also accused the environmental officials of being "an enemy of the people" and assured the residents of Khuzestan that the required permission will be gained and the allocation will remain in the bill.

Shafei responded by saying that "a proposal need not obtain permission, but its approval does".

Razi Nouri, a representative of Khuzestan in the Majlis, told IRNA that "we are pursuing the matter through the Majlis speaker [Ali Larijani] so as to finally have the bill approved without any difficulty".  

All these arguments continued among officials while Khuzestan was battling severe dust storms with particulate concentration exceeding the standard level by nearly 20 times.

On Sunday, the concentration of dust particles in Ahvaz was 1,182 micrograms per cubic meter, almost nine times the standard of 150 mg/cm.

Behbahan faced the largest pollution with dust density reaching 2,808, over 19 times more than the standard level.

The phenomenon led to the closure of schools, universities and offices in more than 20 counties of the province for two consecutive days.

According to the health officials of Khuzestan, about 700 people have referred to medical centers for respiratory problems over the past few days.

On Monday, President Hassan Rouhani tasked the DOE chief, Isa Kalantari, and Agriculture Minister Mahmoud Hojjati with investigating the conditions of the province from close.

The officials are required to report about measures taken to curb the pollution or any possible obstacle facing the measures and present it to the president.

  Waste Budget Deleted

Besides the fund for dust and sand storms, another proposal was included in the budget bill concerning waste management.

Based on the plan, $2 billion were to be jointly allocated from NDFI for household waste management, watershed management and improvement of ecosystems.  This paragraph has also been deleted by the joint commission.

Shafei expressed opposition to the elimination of this paragraph, pointing out that 50,000 tons of household wastes are produced in the country daily and the budget is not adequate for their management.

"The government had decided to resolve the issue of waste materials in four years by drawing funds from NDFI, but unfortunately the joint commission removed the proposal from the bill," he said.

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