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Recent Iranian government projects: election advertising or environmental threats?


By: Bijan Rohani (source: Radio Zamaneh

The Iranian government has proposed new projects such as building infrastructure in Shahrood’s Abr Forest and opening up oil development in Kavir National Park by issuing exploration permits, and the government’s national development plan promises to donate 2,000 square metres of public land to Iranian families. However, each of these announcements has triggered waves of criticism against the government’s choices. Some critics have described the news as mere propaganda in view of the approaching election, but others are concerned that implementing such projects could do lasting harm to the country’s environment.

Abr Forest

During Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s trip to Semnan Province, it was announced that a permit for oil exploration has been issued to a Chinese company. The agreement, which was reportedly signed with Sinopec seven years ago, has not been implemented so far due to resistance from Iran’s Environment Organization. Sinopec is a major Chinese petroleum and chemical corporation with annual revenues that rank it fifth-largest in the global market.

The CEO of the National Iranian Oil Company accompanied the government delegation on its trip to Semnan and announced that oil exploration operations in the Kavir National Park, which had met some environmental obstacles, have now been approved and soon will commence. Environmental groups have criticized the Environment Organization’s approval of the project.

The Kavir National Park, a protected region of Iran, has been the habitat of the Persian Zebra and panther, both highly endangered species. The region is also the habitat for leopards, eagles and sand cats.

National parks are supposed to be under government protection, with any form of development activity strictly forbidden. The exploration of oil fields, which comes with explosions and the construction of various plants, will have a devastating effect on the natural landscape of this pristine area and damage its animal habitats and ecosystems.

Photos: Farahnaz Village, Iran's Central Desert

According to the guidelines of the Environmental Protection and Improvement Act, national parks are protected in order to preserve the natural conditions and create an optimum environment for the reproduction and breeding of wild animals and vegetation in completely natural surroundings. Provision 8 of the act prohibits cutting down trees and even shrubs, considering it detrimental to the flora and the region’s ecosystem. Provision 9 of the act prohibits the renewal or issuance of exploration permits as well as mining exploitation activities in the area. However, the agreement with Sinopec maintains that if commercial oil fields are discovered in Kavir National Park, it will also be handed the Garmsar block development project.

Is road building really going to begin in Abr Forest?

The government’s trip to the province of Semnan brought unpleasant news for Abr Forest. The Abr Forest in Sharoud is one of the oldest hyrcanian forests and is one of Iran’s unique natural areas. In recent years, a plan has been approved to build a road across this forest, which has met with strong resistance from environmental activists, members of Parliament and journalists, who have prevented this plan from going forward so far. On his visit to Semnan in April, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said: “The Abr Forest road has an environmental glitch which has been overcome and, God willing, the plan will go ahead.”

Photos: Iranian Activists Protest In Support of Abr Forest (June 2012)

The news triggered a fresh wave of concern among environment supporters. However, Kamaleddin Pirmoazen, an MP and a member of the environmental faction in Parliament, told the Mehr News Agency that such statements are mere publicity stunts aimed at picking up votes for the presidential election. Primoazen stressed that Parliament’s environmental faction would never allow such unprofessional plans to be implemented.

Promises of 2,000 square metres of lands

In Kurdistan Province, at the launch of provincial development projects, the government delegation announced another piece of news that involved Iran’s natural zones. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that the state can easily “donate more than 2,000 square metres of land to each household so that they can practice agriculture in addition to building luxurious and beautiful houses.”

Earlier, Ahmadinejad had supported a plan promising land to Iranian families to build villas and gardens. The plan was opposed by the Supreme Leader, and Parliament’s research centre announced the plan would lead to abuse by land developers eyeing national and natural land resources and would damage agricultural lands that were operating as the lungs of the cities.

Now that Ahmadinejad has reintroduced the plan during his provincial visits, experts once again insist that not only is it impossible to donate 2,000 square metres of land to every Iranian family, which means this can only be a publicity stunt, but that such a plan is an outright violation of Iran’s environmental and natural resources.

Mohammad Khosroshahi, a professor and the chairman of the Forests and Rangelands Research Institute, says all the land surrounding the cities has been developed into residential areas. Last year’s census reported more than 21 million Iranian households. If the president plans on giving even half of these families 2,000 square metres of land, we would need a minimum of 2 million acres of undeveloped land. The development of infrastructure for such areas would take decades, while the possibility of agriculture as promised by the president would be impossible without water.

Analysts predict that as the presidential race approaches, various candidates might begin making promises to advance their own interests at the cost of Iran’s natural and environmental resources.

[translated from the Persian original ]

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