Devastating Floods hit Iran

8th April 2019

Political turmoil and an increase in international sanctions have put pressure upon the people of Iran in recent months.  Now the country has been devastated by massive floods.  Jane Green considers the plight of the ordinary people of Iran in the face of natural disaster. 

As the death toll, following over two weeks of flooding in Iran, heads towards three figures, anger at the government’s handling of the crisis is becoming widespread.  Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, and Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander, Mohammed Ali Jafari, have been trading accusations about the best way to handle the crisis.

Differences centre upon the demolition of a railway in Northern Iran, to allow flood waters to drain away, a tactic the IRGC initiated but one which Rouhani has said makes no impact upon the flood relief effort.  Whatever the technical merits of the argument however, there can be no doubt that the flooding, which began just after the Iranian New Year on 21st March, has been devastating for the Iranian people.

The consequences of the floods that have hit some of the most fertile provinces could be disastrous. Ten provinces where wheat and rice plantations cater for the main staple of the 80 million population and considered as the main stay of the economy have been completely inundated.

Deaths have been reported in 31 of the provinces of Iran with the city of Shiraz being especially badly hit.  An estimated one month’s rainfall fell in just one day, in two fifteen-minute bursts.  With the death toll rising across the country, tens of thousands have been displaced and made homeless, while thousands of roads have been blocked or washed away.

There has been widespread complaint that the relief response has been inadequate.  With thousands of people sheltering in the open, with little food or warm clothes in often rainy weather, the government as well as aid agencies have come in for severe criticism.  In the view of many, the aid effort is too small in scale and unable to cope with the acute needs of tens of thousands of people affected by the floods.

The country’s infrastructure has been devastated with an estimated 84 bridges destroyed, 141 rivers bursting their banks and around 400 landslides having been reported.  It is estimated that the damaged roads alone make up one third of Iran’s national network.  The scale of the damage has been so bad that authorities have banned foreign journalists from visiting the worst affected areas.

While the floods initially hit Golestan province in the North of the country there is increasing concern that oil rich South Western areas, such as Khuzestan, will be hit, with 70 villages already evacuated in anticipation of floods reaching that area.

Ali Asghar Peyvandi, the head of Iran’s Red Crescent, said he feared many villages in Khuzestan “will be submerged” as flood waters moved south towards the oil-rich province.

“With the possibility of dams overflowing, we have made preparations to accommodate 100,000 people,” he told state television.

Khuzestan has an extensive range of dams but officials said water was flowing into them at a rapid rate. In some cases water levels were only 70cm lower than the dam crests, they reported.

“Our dams are more than 95 percent full,” Gholamreza Shariati, governor of the province, told state TV.


In the face of such a crisis the impact of international sanctions against Iran is being keenly felt.  For example, rescue helicopters have not been renewed, making it difficult to target relief supplies to affected areas.  In addition, while the United Nations has been ready to offer help it has also warned that, “challenges caused by unilateral sanctions will affect the UN response and the accountability of the UN to deliver the appropriate support”.

The United States has been quick to lay the blame at the door of the Iranian authorities with Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, on 2nd April pointing the finger at the Iranian government for the shortcomings in aid relief.  This followed on from earlier accusations by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that “economic terrorism” by Washington was responsible for the shortage of rescue helicopters.

“These floods once again show the level of Iranian regime mismanagement in urban planning and in emergency preparedness,” Pompeo said. “The regime blames outside entities when, in fact, it is their mismanagement that has led to this disaster.” This criticism is ironic when the Iranian Red Crescent is so severely affected by US sanctions that it can’t respond adequately to the emergency anywhere in Iran.

As the point-scoring between the Islamic regime and the US continues, it is the ordinary people of Iran, caught between a rock and a hard place, who continue to suffer.  Demonstrations, which have swept the country over the past year, have focussed upon the corruption which is endemic to the regime in Iran.  The current tragedy has brought home the consequences of such corruption with heavy damage from the floods being blamed on widespread disregard for safety regulations in the construction of buildings and roads near rivers.

Local governors have faced vitriol from ordinary people, many of whom have little chance of rebuilding their lives following the devastation, and some areas of the country are regarded as virtually no-go areas for the government due to the local population being deemed too rebellious. Shockingly, the Iranian government has outlawed any rescue and clean-up work that neighbours and communities are organising, fearing that even local people getting together to assist each other in desperate circumstances might provide channels for popular dissent.

Whatever the position of the United States and European governments regarding sanctions against Iran, there can be no excuse for the United Nations and international agencies such as the Red Crescent not to be allowed to get on with the task of disaster relief and providing some alleviation in suffering for the thousands affected.

A natural disaster on this scale is unprecedented in Iran’s recent history.  The least that the people of Iran can expect from the international community is solidarity, support and succour at a time of national crisis and, for many, personal tragedy.

As an organisation which has shown solidarity with the people of Iran for nearly 40 years, CODIR will continue to call for solidarity with the Iranian people.  We urge our colleagues in the labour and trade union movement to show their solidarity at this time of need and demand that, whatever the sanctions regime, the people of Iran cannot be forgotten.

Vehicles are piled up on a street after a flash flood in the southern city of Shiraz, Iran, Monday, March 25, 2019. Iranian state TV reported that flash floods have killed at least 11 people and injured 15 in the country’s south. The provinces of Fars, Kurdistan, Qom and Isfahan are also on alert for imminent flooding. (AP Photo/Amin Berenjkar/Mehr News Agency)

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