Every year, environmental activists and organizations mark July 28, reminding the imperative of preserving the principle of resource use and allocation and protecting the health of the natural world. They also highlight the importance of ensuring both renewable and non-renewable energy.

Systematic neglect of natural resources in Iran has prompted many citizens across the country, particularly in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, to come onto the streets and blame officials’ failure to save these national assets. Today, on World Nature Conservation Day, the people of Khuzestan continue their protests for the 14th consecutive day.

Environmental experts and officials underline the government’s financial incentives as the main reason for the recent natural crises in Khuzestan. Particularly, they implicitly mention the role of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in drying the Hour ol-Azim or Hawizeh Marshes.

Hour ol-Azim Dried in Favor of IRGC and Chinese Companies

According to evidence and officials’ comments, plundering policies of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) led to annihilating Hawizeh Marshes during Ahmadinejad’s era as President. The IRGC, indeed, dried the marshes based on a deal with a Chinese company.

Today, the province suffers from a chronic water shortage while it possesses several major rivers such as Karun, Karkheh, Dez, Maroun (Jarrahi), Shavur, Zohreh (Hendijan), Bahmanshir, and Arvandroud. The people not only witness severe water shortages for agricultural lands and livestock farms, but they lack water for drinking or hygienic needs.

The disaster, however, is not limited to shortages in potable water. Khuzestan’s residents also face constant sandstorms, the issue of dry particulates such as dust and smoke, ongoing power outages, the eruption of sewage in the streets and people’s homes, lack of basic infrastructures, which leads to flash floods following any rainfall.

Khuzestan Lost its Health with Drying Hour ol-Azim

Many experts describe Hawizeh Marshes as a nature credit for Khuzestan. In other words, these marshes were ensuring citizens’ health and wellbeing in the oil-rich and most industrial province of Iran.

Since the 2000s, the government began to sear the Hour ol-Azim gradually due to economic reasons. It was a starting point for many natural catastrophes in this province. The IRGC’s projects continue as today; it is no longer marshes. Indeed, the government has turned the Hour ol-Azim into a desert, which is the origin of dust and other dry particulates.

Security Council Ordered to Dry Hour ol-Azim

Recently, Ahmad Reza Lahijanzadeh, the deputy for the maritime ecosystem of the Environment Organization, shed light on some details. “In the 2000s, the Hour ol-Azim was dried according to the license issued by a high-ranking security council in favor of a Chinese company for extracting petroleum,” he said, avoiding mentioning the name of the mysterious ‘high-ranking security council.’

“The Japanese were ready to employ modern technology for extracting petroleum from Azadegan and Yadavaran oilfields. They wanted to use technology such as extracting petroleum from the sea,” Lahijanzadeh explained, adding, “A Japanese company has performed expanded studies, and it was supposed to install maritime equipment and build relevant facilities to extract petroleum without drying of the marshes.”

“However, the Chinese refused to use such technology. To ease the project’s expenditures, they suggested drying the Hour ol-Azim. A high-ranking security council accepted the plan, and therefore, they created the current ominous destiny for these marshes,” Lahijanzadeh continued.

“In the 2000s, the circumstances were changed, and the projects were afforded to Chinese companies. Eventually, in 2018, another unpleasant event occurred, and [Chinese] companies received the licenses for working in non-aqueous places,” he continued.

Silent Crime Against Iran’s Nature and People

Notably, all of the above-mentioned events took place during the presidency of ‘reformist’ President Mohammad Khatami and his ‘principlist’ successor Ahmadinejad, whose government was known as the IRGC cabinet. “My opinion is closer to [Ahmadinejad]’s opinion,” Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had said at the time, as full support for him.

Furthermore, the mysterious ‘high-ranking security council’ is genuinely the Supreme National Security Council, which oversees almost all affairs inside the country and abroad. The President is in charge of this council, and Khamenei appoints the members.

IRGC Government’s Profiteering Policies in Drying Hour ol-Azim

Previously, Mohammad Darvish, an environmental activist, had declared that the Oil Company and the Oil Ministry are the most responsible for destroying the Hawizeh Marshes. They dried the marshes in favor of a Chinese contractor to extract petroleum,” he said.

“The Chinese contractor had told the Ahmadinejad government that it would decrease prices by 20 percent if the marshes were dried. Then, they decided to dry the marshes,” Darvish added.

Local citizens and dissidents image the government’s decision about the Hour ol-Azim marches as a crime against the regional environment, as well as the people. They say that state-backed companies, particularly the IRGC, have lined their pockets at the expense of residents’ health and lives.

Drying of Hawizeh marshes is only one instance of the ayatollahs’ treacherous deals with their ‘international allies’—China, Russia, Qatar, India, and Venezuela.

Recently, the Iranian government signed a 25-year deal with China, which contributed generous privileges to the Chinese government. Experts say that the ayatollahs practically allocated the country’s natural resources in many aspects for free.

According to their assessment, the deal’s clauses are far more humiliated than drying of the Hour ol-Azim, including trawl fishing in the Persian Gulf, using low-price electricity for mining cryptocurrencies, receiving low-priced petroleum, and paying its cost with soft money, dispatching 5,000 Chinese security forces for guarding their facilities, and many other privileges.

On the other hand, China is not the sole beneficiary of Iran’s natural resources and a weak ruling system. During recent years, the Russian government has won the lion’s share of the Caspian Sea, India won the privileges of the strategic harbor of Chabahar for years, and Venezuela received gasoline from the Iranian government for free while the government carried out a bloody crackdown on protests over gas price hikes in November 2019 and killed at least 1,500 peaceful demonstrators.

In a nutshell, the people of Iran have nothing more to lose. They see protests as the primary solution to gain their inherent rights and share of the country’s natural resources. Therefore, despite a cruel crackdown on defenseless protesters in Khuzestan and other cities, not only have the protests yet to be extinguished, but also they extended to other provinces rapidly.