People, Environment

Oil Ministry Under DOE Fire for Hoor al-Azim Wetland

Oil Ministry Under DOE Fire for Hoor al-Azim Wetland  Oil Ministry Under DOE Fire for Hoor al-Azim Wetland

Iran’s top environmental official could not help but take a swipe at the Oil Ministry and their apparent disregard for the environment.    

Speaking at an event Tuesday in Isfahan to commemorate World Wetlands Day, Massoumeh Ebtekar, head of the Department of Environment, said, “When you drain a wetland for industrial purposes, you must consider its consequences and the damage it causes to other sectors, especially the economy and environment,” ILNA reported.

The official was referring to the key Hoor al-Azim Wetland in the oil-rich Khuzestan Province, which was completely dried up by the ministry in order to extract oil using outdated techniques. The wetland has now become the biggest domestic source of dust storms in western Iran.

DOE officials and environmentalists accuse the ministry of not doing enough to protect the wetland. Ahmadali Keykha, a former official at the department, said last year, “If they have the know-how to set up an offshore oil platform, they (also) can set up an oil rig on land. But they decided to dry up the wetland, obviously to save money.”

Ebtekar pointed to the financial value of wetlands and said local communities depend on the ecologically-rich sites for a living. Recent reports put the number of people who rely on wetlands at a billion people worldwide.

Recalling wasteful farming practices that are responsible for 90% of Iran’s annual water consumption, Ebtekar said significant overhaul of agricultural policies now “is the only option left” to secure water supply for the 80 million population.

“Given our dwindling water reserves and the effects of climate change, we really don’t have any other choice,” she said. “We have to adopt modern farming techniques…The looming water crisis is a national concern.”

The ministry has categorically denied allegations that its oil exploration techniques are to blame for the wetland’s desiccation, with Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh claiming that he had rejected drilling projects that would have dried up the lagoon.

“The oil ministry is committed to protecting the environment,” Zanganeh said last April, adding the ministry will ensure environmental concerns are fully addressed.

Nevertheless, little has been done to restore the transboundary wetland, which is located on the border of Iran and Iraq. Last week, the Iraq-portion of the dried up lagoon caught fire, which according to Ebtekar Iran helped put out.