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Drought Devastates Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan Province

FILE: An Iranian shepherd walks his herd in the middle of Hamoon wetland near the Zabol town, in southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan bordering Afghanistan.
FILE: An Iranian shepherd walks his herd in the middle of Hamoon wetland near the Zabol town, in southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan bordering Afghanistan.

In a shocking statement, a representative of the southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province in the Supreme Council of Provinces (SCP) says, “The drought has impoverished the people of the province to the extent that children go to school “without breakfast” and some of the “people have not seen a piece of meat for months and feed themselves with pieces of dried stale bread”.

The water flowing from Afghanistan into Sistan-Baluchestan has been stopped, Aziz Sarani told state-run Iran Labor News Agency (ILNA), adding, “Deprived of the water flowing into the province, people have completely lost their only hope of cultivating the land.”

Earlier, another representative of Sistan-Baluchestan to SCP, Shahbakhsh Gorgij had divulged that the amount of water available in some rural areas of the province is only enough for “keeping people alive”, while in some cases, people are forced to drink water from large ditches used by animals.

"The people in these areas use the water of hootaks (an open pond commonly used by animals). The water in these hootaks is badly contaminated,” Sarani has echoed Gorgij’s comments.

Sarani reiterated that drought and the water crisis are most serious in the southern part of the province, neighboring Pakistan.

“We recently learned that one of the villagers who had consumed the water of these hootaks had a leech stuck in his throat. Doctors had to operate on him to pull out the leech", Sarani said.

Sistan-Baluchestan, mainly populated by Sunni Baluch (Baloch), is one of the most deprived provinces of Iran, where recent sand storms and drought have significantly aggravated its problems.

“Here in Sistan-Baluchestan, we are not facing the problem of people migrating from rural areas to suburban slums; we are witnessing people leaving the province in hundreds,” Sarani lamented.

Referring to the fact that many villages in the province, specifically those near city of Zabol, are in critical situation because of “drought and dust storms”, Sarani has insisted that the situation for the residents of these villages has reached a “dangerous” and “life threatening” point.

Furthermore, the notorious 120-day annual winds in the province have extended to 180-days, making life “horrifying” and “unbearable”, Sarani has noted.

Meanwhile, Sarani has presented a long list of shortages in the province, including healthy potable water, medicine and jobs, adding, “The people of the province are so impoverished that their only income is 450,000 rial monthly government handout (roughly monthly $10 at official rate and $5 at free market rate).”

Calling upon the government to immediately address these problems, Sarani has also maintained, “Nearly two decades of consecutive periods of drought have led to the crisis of dust and sand storms, bringing in respiratory illnesses, tuberculosis and shortness of breath."

Earlier on July 4, in an interview with state-run ROKNA news agency, Sarani had disclosed, “Lack of resources and religious prejudices in the province have forced many parents in villages near Zabol to let their daughters marry at early age of nine.”

According to Sarani, decades of drought have wiped out agricultural activities across the province, “People used to farm, but this is no longer possible with the unending dry seasons. Since 2017, people have lost all their sources of income and they have no source of income other than the government's aid.”

The people’s tribulation is so evident that one can hardly miss it, Sarani has stressed, noting, "If you walk through the streets at night and in the areas next to the cemeteries, you easily see people, including women, young boys and girls, sleeping in cardboard boxes, side by side a swarm of addicts.”

Sistan-Baluchestan, after Kerman, is the second largest among 31 provinces of Iran. With an area of 180,726 square km (roughly 70,000 square mile) and a population of 2.5 million, the province borders Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The population of the province is mainly composed of the Sunni Baluch (Baloch), followed by the relatively large Shi’ite minority.