Iran floods: Torrential rain and rising water kill 17 and widen political divides

US officials get involved, blaming Iranian authorities for water mismanagement

Borzou Daragahi
International Correspondent
Monday 25 March 2019 16:17
Flooding strikes Iranian cities

Days of torrential downpours across Iran have led to unprecedented flooding, killing at least 17 people and sharpening political tensions.

At least 74 people have also been injured in the flash floods. In one dramatic video posted online, a man could be seen struggling to rescue a woman and child in each arm as a heavy current threatened to drag them away.

“The situation here is very hard, people of Iran,” a relief worker in the northern province of Golestan declares in a video, as he makes his way through flooded streets in a small boat.

“People here are in need of food, and it’s just the beginning of the storms. I am pleading with you. Please help out with necessary supplies.”

Floods regularly strike the country’s verdant north but some of the worst flooding this year hit the south, in rural Shiraz province. Scores of villages and towns and several cities have suffered.

The floods began a week ago, coinciding with the end of the Persian calendar year, which is normally a time of celebration and family gatherings.

The floods also come at a time of heightened political tensions over economic troubles, which have been exacerbated by tightened US sanctions under Donald Trump and a clique of hardline Iran hawks who dominate Middle East policy in his administration.

Washington also weighed in, highlighting Tehran authorities’ poor water management abilities.

“The regime has severely mismanaged water resources in Iran for the last 40 years,” said Brian Hook, the State Department’s Iran special representative, in a video to mark World Water Day on Friday.

“Today we are seeing devastating effects. Corruption lies at the heart of the problem.”

Rising floodwaters are also expected to affect neighbouring Iraq, with officials in Basra evacuating villages caught downstream from deluged rivers in Iran.

The heavy rains, of up to half a metre, caused rivers to burst and one mostly desert province in southeast Iran was anticipating up to 40 centimetres in coming days, half its annual rainfall.

Flood warnings have been issued in just about every province, with heavy rains badly disrupting transport and commerce during what is normally a peak tourist season.

The country’s Meteorological Organisation says 26 of 31 provinces are being hammered with rain or snow.

The governor of Fars province, which includes the Persian New Year destination of Shiraz, had urged residents to stay at home.

To grapple with the disaster, the Iranian authorities have established crisis centres across the country. They have also mobilised the armed forces, including the Revolutionary Guard, which on Sunday set off three explosions to release water trapped behind a railway embankment and save a town in northern Golestan province from being further deluged.

At least one dam has been opened in southwest Khuzestan province to prevent further damage. Iranian authorities have come under fire by environmentalists and neighbouring Iraq for building too many dams.

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Social media users including regime hardliners have criticised the handling of the flood by the government of Hassan Rouhani, considered a relative moderate. The governor of Golestan province has already been fired, reportedly for being out of the country during the floods. A government auditor told state radio that two investigations are underway to assess the government’s handling of the floods.

“If shortcomings or possible faults are found in any of the government agencies regarding the necessary measures that should have been taken, which may have caused damage, or if there was failure to provide relief and services to people, a report is to be made for further investigation,” the newly appointed hardline judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi was quoted as saying.

In an effort to avoid various scams that have surfaced during previous natural disasters, Iran has also banned fundraising by individuals and unauthorised organisations, urging people to donate to the Red Crescent society.

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