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Dust Storms Blanket Khuzestan, Western Iran

Dust storm in Khuzestan province, Iran. File photo.

Schools were closed across parts of Iran amid severe dust storms that prompted officials to release “red alert” warnings as the concentration of dust and particles in the air has soared above safe levels.

Several cities in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan and western parts of Iran were facing volumes 30 times higher than considered safe.

Citing the Environmental Protection Office in Khuzestan, the government’s official news agency, IRNA, reported that “the volume of dust and particles in several cities of the province passed the red-alert level” as of October 30.

The Iranian government considers the normal volume of particulate matter to be 150 micrograms per cubic meter. This standard is much lower in the U.S., especially for smaller particle concentration. Any level between 101-150 is already dangerous for vulnerable individuals.

At the same time the next day, the volume topped 4,200 micrograms per cubic meter in Abadan, 1,785 micrograms in Shadegan, and 1,245 micrograms per cubic meter in Sousangerd. Air pollution in the early hours of October 31 in Ahvaz was reportedly 239 micrograms per cubic meter.

Dozens of schools in the provinces of Khuzestan, Ilam, and Kurdistan were forced to shut down on October 31.

On November 1, IRNA reported that the situation is still severe.

Quoting Khuzestan’s Governor-General’s Department of Crisis Management, the Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) reported that schools in nine cities of the province were shut down because of high air pollution.

The poor air quality also forced governmental offices in Ahvaz and six other cities in Khuzestan -- Hamidieh, Karoun, Bavi, Dasht-e Azadegan, Hoveizeh, and Shadegan -- to close down at noon.

According to local reports, the volume of air pollution in the western city of Sanandaj on October 31 was nine times higher than the standard level and posed a serious risk.

Air pollution kills 35,000 people every year in Iran, according to the Iranian Environmental Protection Organization.

“Air pollution also kills 5,000 people in Iran’s capital city, Tehran,” said Mohammad Darvish, director-general of the organization’s office for education and popular cooperation.

Iranian media have published many reports about the skyrocketing levels of air pollution in Iran’s metropolitan cities, including Tehran, Mashhad, Isfahan, and Ahvaz, as well as cities in Sistan and Baluchestan Province.

Iran’s vice president and head of the Environmental Protection Organization in President Hassan Rouhani’s first cabinet, Masoumeh Ebtekar, also warned of the deteriorating condition of some of the country’s wetlands to dangerous levels and blamed Turkey for building too many dams.

“Excessive construction of dams in Turkey has plunged the Hoor al-Azim wetlands into a dangerous condition,” she said in June.

Ebtekar called on the Iranian Foreign Ministry to step in and save the wetlands from desiccation through talks with Ankara.

Turkey, however, has repeatedly dismissed such comments as unfounded.

Meanwhile, Ebtekar also blamed the desiccation of wetlands in neighboring Iraq and the reduction of its rivers’ water levels for jeopardizing Hoor al-Azeem.