Schools and kindergartens were closed on Monday and remained shut on Tuesday, for extra health precautions, but the smog is expected to last until Wednesday. Ambulance cars were told to stay on hold at some of the most polluted areas, in case children, elderly or people suffering from existing health problems, needed immediate medical attention.
It was even worse in Isfahan where the Air Quality Index reached 167, causing Iranian officials to publicly apologise to foreign tourists for these conditions. Rajab Ali Khosroabadi, Tehran’s official in relation to tourism affairs, released the following statement on the ISNA news agency. “We hope our people’s hospitality wipes the grey image of Tehran’s beautiful attractions from their minds.”
Sadly, this kind of health hazard is not unique this year. When the temperature cools outside with the onset of autumn, Tehran is always hit by the “temperature inversion” effect. As reported by Phys.org, this “phenomenon creates a layer of warm air above the city that traps pollution from some 10 million cars and motorbikes.”
While measures have been taken to deal with this crisis situation (bans on traffic, the mayor of Tehran riding to work in a metro in order to encourage people to make more use of public transport), the problem is not addressed by the Iranian regime to find a long-term solution. A sociology student from Tehran expressed his views to AFP: “Since no one does anything, every year the problem gets worse. The government should block old cars. We must improve public transport.”
Pollution and environmental issues in Tehran remain a political concern, with many parties and officials passing the buck of blame around while failing to find a solution. Massoumeh Ebtekar, the reformist vice-president, in charge of the environmental protection agency, has often been accused of not doing enough. His response on an Instagram post stated that measures have been put in place, leading to major improvements, such as reduced factory pollution and use of cleaner petrol.
However, the newspaper Vatane Emrooz claimed that 70% of deaths in Tehran are due to pollution. In 2014 alone, 1,500 people required treatment and almost 400 were admitted to hospital due to respiratory and heart problems, linked to pollution. According to estimations by the Ministry of Health, the levels of pollution in 2012 were linked to 4,500 premature deaths in Tehran, and almost 80,000 in Iran in total.
The traffic restriction zones that were put in place in 1979 and 2005 have had little or no effect on the problem of pollution. And despite Mr. Ebtekar’s claims, people have been unwilling to use cleaner engines. Foreign investors and companies have been denied access to Iran’s trade market due to sanctions.
The problem of pollution in Iran should remain high on the regime’s agenda, but the reluctance of the officials to find long-term solutions is contributing to deaths and deteriorating health for the citizens of Iran today.