IRAN REPEATS SADDAM'S MARSH DESTRUCTION
A decline in fresh water flow due to upstream dam projects combined with waste water from industry and cash crop production are major threats to the region’s ecologically valuable marshlands, which serve as an important habitat for wildlife as well as helping to regulate humidity and rainfall further inland.
The Hawr Al-Azim marsh, which connects to Iraq's Hawr Al-Hawizeh marsh, is under threat from water pollution and the construction of dams on the Karkeh River which feeds it.
The extent of the marsh has declined dramatically over the past three decades with disastrous consequences for the wildlife and communities that depend on it.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Hawr al-Azim marsh has transformed from one of the biggest marshes in the Middle East to a barren wasteland with soil that is too salty to sustain any plants.
The extent of the marsh declined 53.7% to 295.6 square km between 1975 and 2000 with the area covered by permanent marsh falling 52.5%, permanent lakes shrinking 67.0% and seasonal and shallow lakes declining 98.0%.
Some species, such as otters, have reportedly vanished from the marsh as a result.
The situation since 2000 has continued to worsen with increased salinity, putrification of vegetation and widespread desertification.
Ignoring warnings of environment experts, in October 2012 the Head of the Environment Protection Agency Mohammadi Zadeh approved the discharge of waste water from sugarcane plantations into the marshlands of Khuzestan. He claimed that the release of waste water would have no effect on the marshlands.
However, leading experts in the region disagreed, stated that plantation effluent combined with dam construction and lower rainfall threaten a devastating ecological crisis in the marshes.
Academics and conservationists have repeatedly warned that discharging saline waste water into freshwater lagoons will have catastrophic effects on the ecosystem and the indigenous Arabs who have lived there since ancient times.
Dr Mehran Afkhami, a professor at the University of Tehran, said that fauna that evolved over thousands of years in the fresh water conditions of the marshes face extinction due to salination caused by waste water. He stated that the discharge of sugarcane waters with a salinity of 10,000μS/cm into a freshwater wetland would lead to the failure of the ecosystem.