Iran is gagging – on sanctions and deadly pollution. Finally, after months of denial, the country’s oil minister Rostam Qasemi acknowledged that petroleum sales are down by 40 percent after western sanctions that prohibit certain international transactions have stunted trade.
In February, all energy, shipping and shipbuilding enterprises will be blacklisted as well, the New York Times reports – all to curb the country’s nuclear ambitions. Meanwhile, the government ordered all official buildings, schools and universities to shut down for five days recently in order to dissipate pollution. They are open now, but a cloud of lead, sulfur dioxins and benzene remains aloft.
Like Cairo under the spell of its black cloud but arguably worse, Iran’s cities are among the world’s most polluted according to the World Health Organization (WHO) - beating out the competition in Vietnam and Mexico’s capital cities, according to NYT.
When the winds settle down, the soot of millions of cars and old factories combines with cold air to create a stifling, static cloud that hovers like morning fog with a bite.
The paper reports that Iranians who dare to venture outside their homes protect themselves against stinging, wrought by the chemicals present in the smog.
Others stay home, many crippled by the sanctions that have caused the Rial to plummet and inflation to soar. Food prices are high, so many locals have turned to eggplant instead of chicken.
Pollution and sanctions may not seem like an obvious coupling, but many locals suggest that a homemade fuel concocted in response to fuel shortages have exacerbated the situation, though officials are sensitive to such claims.
Speaking in an interview with NYT, Ali Mohammad Sha’eri, the deputy direct of Iran’s environment protection organization said that only 20 percent of the homegrown fuel meets international standards, though they hope to at least get to 50 percent.
Certain measures are in place to mitigate the pollution, including a plan that stipulates which cars can be on the roads on any given day based on whether the last digit of their license plates is an even or odd number.
These keeps roughly half of the cars off the road every day, which helps, but is no panacea.
When the winds pick up again, the pollution wont’ be as bad. But economic conditions have no hope of repair anytime soon.
Image of Tehran’s skyline, Shutterstock