Efforts to prevent wildfires in Iraq from reaching Iran, has been halted, says President Hassan Rouhani’s deputy and the head of Department of Environment (DoE).
Iraqi part of Hour al-Azim wetland has been burning for weeks now and the wildfire smoke clouds have caused health problems for the inhabitants of cities on the Iranian side of the border, especially in Iranian Khuzestan province and its capital Ahvaz, local news outlets reported.
Meanwhile, 250 residents of Hawizeh or Hoveyzeh, southwest Iran, have been taken to clinics and hospitals for respiratory problems.
The Hour al-Azim or Hawizeh marshes are a complex of wetlands that straddle the Iran-Iraq border. The marshes are fed by two branches of the Tigris River, the Euphrates in Iraq, and the Karkheh River in Iran.
The head of DoE, Isa Kalantari, who travelled to the disaster zone in Khuzestan province on Friday to monitor efforts to prevent the wildfires from reaching Iran, has blamed landmines planted in the area and lack of cooperation by the Iraqi government’s, for the continuation of the catastrophe.
Furthermore, DoE’s local deputy, Adil Mola says, “Spraying water by choppers and water-dropping aircraft have not been helpful so far, so the efforts were suspended.”
Speaking to the government’s official news agency, IRNA, Mola reiterated, “The only way to put out the flames is to direct water toward the wetland from its feeders, the Tigris in Iraq and Karkheh in Iran.”
According to Mola, diplomatic efforts needed to pursue the matter.
Director General of disaster management department of Khuzestan province, Kiumarth Hajizadeh, has also told state-run Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) on Tuesday both Iran and Iraq are required to provide the wetland with its water, but Iraq is not committed to international conventions regarding water rights of Hour al-Azim.
“Despite water shortages Iran has allocated water to the wetland in the Iranian part and we are also ready to let water flow into the Iraqi part of Hour al-Azim, but it also requires the Iraqi government to issue the necessary permits,” he stated.
Moreover, ground operations are impossible since the area contains live landmines remaining from the eight-year Iran-Iraq war (1980-88).
In the meantime, cities and villages of Khuzestan Province are still grappling with the thick smoke rising from the wildfire in the Iraqi side of Hour-al Azim wetland.
Hawizeh Governor, Nazim Thobooti told IRNA on Friday that more than 250 people have been taken to the healthcare centers and hospitals during past thirty days for respiratory problems.
Director of Khuzestan’s Department of Meteorology, Mohammad Sabzehzari has also pointed out that visibility is less than fifty meters (roughly 55 yards) in places near the disaster-hit area.
The fire was extinguished on July 25 after four days of fire-fighting operation, but the area caught fire again on August 2 and the fire was again contained three days later. Currently the wetland is again burning and cities nearing the area are blanketed in choking smoke, ISNA reported.
In a new footage published by IRNA, Kalantari has lambasted the Iraqi authorities for refusing Iranian choppers to enter their territory and fight the fire.
In the meantime, without any elaboration or presenting evidence, Kalantari has described the wildfires as an “arson” and “deliberate”.