Gov’t Mobilizing Efforts to Fight Dust Storms

Gov’t Mobilizing Efforts to Fight Dust Storms Gov’t Mobilizing Efforts to Fight Dust Storms

With dust storms battering parts of the country for weeks, especially the southwestern regions, the government this week allocated a special budget to help check the disturbing pollution trend in oil-rich Khuzestan Province.

In a statement released by the Department of Environment (DoE), its deputy head Saeed Motesadi said, "The government has made great strides in the fight against dust pollution. Last year we established a country-wide system to monitor dust particles from the ground."

News reports early Saturday said the smog, dust and other pollutants had "reduced overnight in the provincial capital Ahvaz."  However, the Fars news agency quoted a senior health ministry official as saying that the weather "conditions fluctuate every 48 hours as the high pollution makes a comeback."

Ismail Eidani, a deputy health minister, said "a major concern of most people in the province is the psychological impact of such (weather) phenomenon." He did not elaborate.

Last week schools and offices were closed in the province as the storm took its health toll sending large numbers of people to hospitals for emergency treatment, many in the outpatient department (OPD).

The DoE's Motesadi said, "At the moment Khuzestan has only 20 monitoring stations that give us reports about the concentration of dust particles in the air. Expanding this network of dust-monitoring stations is on the agenda."

To better monitor the situation, the DoE has established a special committee to monitor the concentrations of dust in the air. Last week, in a meeting attended by the representatives of the ministries of health, energy, oil, agriculture, and the Meteorological Organization, a budget was finalized and proposed to the government, he said. However, details of the amount were not revealed.

Vice-president and DoE chief, Masumeh Ebtekar told the Persian Daily Khorassan on Saturday, "in the past drying up of vast wetlands in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria were the main cause of major dust and particulate storms in the region. Due to this reason we suggested closer international cooperation and the formation of a special global fund to fight the pollution. Unfortunately, our proposal was rejected by some quarters."

The DoE chief who in recent weeks has come under intense pressure and criticism over the seemingly ending smog and dust storms, did not name any country or organization that turned down Iran's proposal in and/or outside the country.

Motessadi, however, stressed "It should not be forgotten that the dust pollution is not an overnight phenomenon and was years in the making, thanks to droughts and poor management. A prime example of mismanagement is the drying out of the Hawr Al-Azim Wetland due to the discovery and extraction of oil."

Even though modern technology is used to extract oil from waterbeds, officials in the past governments preferred to dry out the wetland; the most primitive method imaginable, the official recalled. "Moreover, constructing roads and cutting the wetland's water supplies led to the permanent desiccation of Hoor Al-Azim, making it one of the primary sources of dust storms and air pollution."

He noted the persistent threats and dangers of droughts across the country in recent decades, highlighting their major role in contributing to existing patterns of dust pollution and creating new ones. Encouraging cooperation between local groups and government bodies, he said, "The ministry of agriculture will introduce the latest methods in farming in times of drought and the ministry of health will undertake a short-term plan which involves providing people with masks and milk, shutting down schools and offices, and equipping health centers."

The Rouhani administration is moving forward with an effective plan of action to combat the dust pollution affecting Khuzestan and other provinces including Sistan and Baluchestan, the official was quoted as saying.