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March 23, 2004

Environmental Problems in Iran: Can We Do Anything?
Guest Author: Yasaman Farzan

mountainview.jpgDespite all the sacrifices the environmentalist groups make, the environmental degradation in Iran continues. While the results of global warming will show up in future, other environmental problems have already started taking their toll. In recent years, 30-40 hours of rain in northern parts of Iran has caused a flood while 25 years ago, similar rain would not cause any problem even if it lasted for 100 hours.
Floods occur every year due to deforestation, killing hundreds of people and inflicting millions of dollars of property damage. We have not managed to phase out the consumption of leaded petrol, and as a result, every year more than 4000 people fall victim to air pollution in Iran.

Unfortunately, disasters caused by preventable environmental degradation are not limited to these two examples, and unfortunately again, it seems that environmental issues are not receiving enough attention on the news headlines and websites regarding Iran. The good news is that any of us can make a difference, no matter how limited our time is. Even those who are currently living abroad can play a role in enhancing the public awareness on environmental issues in Iran. Here, I have few suggestions that anybody can implement in her/his life.

Give responsible gifts
I suggest buying some receptacles for recycling for each other as presents. That way whenever the municipality starts collecting recyclable items, the family who has received the gift will readily cooperate.
There are lots of toys on market in developed countries that are intended to teach kids to be more concerned about Nature. These toys can make a great gift ("soghaati") for kids as well as grown-ups.

Talk, talk and talk more!
Surveys in America show that whenever a new product comes to market, only 10% of the customers learn about it from ads. The rest learn about the new item from that 10% zealots. Considering the long history of oral tradition in Iran, similar pattern presumably also works in Iran, not only in marketing but in all social matters. Of course depending on the subject, the time scale over which the word is spread will be different. We can easily play the role of those intermediators, educating each other just by talking. There are many who want to help but they do not know how. For example, some people release their golden fish into lakes. It seems romantic, but those innocent-looking little creatures are the worst kind of pollution, multiplying rapidly and leaving no oxygen for other fishes which can be a source of protein for the locals.

Long live ordinary people!
An American friend once told me that while in Europe the environmental projects are enforced by authorities, in the USA, similar to most of other issues, the driving force behind environmental projects are people at a grass-root level, organized through/with NGO's. It goes without saying that in Iran the latter will work better than the former. Although there are some NGOs in Iran which are concerned with protecting nature at the moment, Iranians in general are not friendly to the environmental activists. The activists need, at least, moral support and encouragement to proceed.
In the end, I must remind that the by-products of the environmental movement are enormous. If only recycling is implemented, more than 5000 job opportunities will be created for the most underprivileged, which can partly solve the homelessness problem.

Picture by: Yousef Ghalati, courtesy of

Yasaman Farzan, a graduate student in high energy physics at SISSA, Italy, received her B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees in Physics at Sharif University of Technology, Tehran, Iran. She is currently studying at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), USA.
Somayeh Sadat at March 23, 2004 01:35 PM [permalink]:

I very much liked your article and see your point in how each of us can help. But in practice, I find it really difficult to talk about these issues with people living in Iran. Many people have this attitude that talking about the environment is a luxuary in Iran, where there are so many other unsolved concurrent problems, and it's really hard to convince them that they can work for different things at the same time.

Yasaman at March 23, 2004 04:40 PM [permalink]:

Unfortunately, as Somayeh pointed out many Iranians
believe that saving the environment is a luxuary but
the fact is that real victims of degradation of nature are peasants. Conisder a woman working up
to her knees in paddy fields for hours, struggling with rheumatism. A flood can ruin all her crop over night, leaving her family destitute. There were such people who started the CHIPKO movement in India. Despite the heavy rain during monsoon in India average victims of flood per million people is about 1 every year, which is half the similar number in Iran. I hope by discussing the experience of other nations, the attitude of Iranians towards protecting the nature will change.

Vahid at March 23, 2004 08:31 PM [permalink]:

Thanks a lot for bringing up this important issue. I very much agree with you, that saving the environement is not a luxuary thing, that people in Iran can not afford. As you mentioned there are already real issues that concern the lives of everyone. And in near future these problems will be more serious. It is very unfortunate, while a lot of people in the world have realized the criticallity of this issue, some governments (Like Iran's and US) neglect protection of environment for their immediate interest.
A friend once told me, destroying the environment is the biggest crime of all, since you are destroying something that belongs to everyone in all the generations to come.

The Pagan at March 24, 2004 02:15 AM [permalink]:

I believe no one has any doubts about the validity of the point that Yasaman has made. I have a comment on the luxuriance issue though. In principle, everybody from every social/economical background can be/live environment-friendly. However, one cannot deny the fact that thinking about the environment is luxirious for average Iranian. I want to give an example that does not fit here completely, but may give you some idea. If you have seen Rakhshan Banietemad's documentary "Our Times", you certainly noticed the contrast she tried to accentuate between the demands of poor and rich classes in society. She makes this observation that freedom (which I believe is more important than enivronmental issues) is a luxurious demand of the rich people as oppose to poor people who are fighting for survival every minute. Although I do not fully agree with the point of view, there is a sad truth to it if you try to look from a different angle. When I reflect on the matter, I can not help but acknowledge the similarities.

Yasaman at March 24, 2004 02:44 PM [permalink]:

Actually, there is a website designed by "saazmaane mohite zist" ( In this website, they claim they are implementing some basic projects to protect the nature. I do not want to be naive and believe that since they have set up this fancy website, they are right. On the other hand, I do not want to be cynical and say whatever "these people" say is a lie (the fact is that there are counterexamples like the mass vaccination or the literacy movement). The media has to investigate the issue to find out whether they are doing their the job or not. This is what reporters do in the US and I hope someday they will do in Iran. 40 years ago, such discussions were considered a luxury even in the US. A group of dedicated environmentalists changed their attitude.

Faezeh at March 24, 2004 03:41 PM [permalink]:

I think the ones that finally can make a diference are NGO's and a strong governmental organization who can prevent destructive projects nationwide.

People may talk in grass-root level as you said but they can't come up with the correct setting of the problems and solutions.

It needs a huge amount of professional work and dediacation of time and money to figure out the big picture of how things affect each other in different eco-systems of Iran and what could be the possible solutions.

This is a great project that needs financial and human resources.

Of course alert and well-informed people can always show good resistant against destructive projects and probably even donate for environmental studies!!

Ghazal at March 24, 2004 04:55 PM [permalink]:

One of my family members in Esfahan, just made a contract with a company to destroy her house with itís beautiful old garden including an old walnut tree, to build a tall apartment complex. The idea is that they can live in one of the units and each of their children will also have their own, it will also pay off the expenses and they can have an extra one to rent so they can retire and live happily ever after.
Sounds familiar? How many times have you heard of such stories? Almost everybody I know has gone through similar experiences. I really can not stop my sorrow when I think how our cities are transformed in to these ugly, polluted, populated places.
I can not blame ordinary people when it is almost impossible for young couples to afford their own housing not to think of a broader picture but honestly not all these cases are out of demand or even the only way out, I think it is more the mindset of people that is pushing in this direction. For example a person who pays to have a luxurious apartment in towers of northern Tehran where lots of trees are cut and gardens are destroyed, is definitely not a poor person.

Yasaman at March 24, 2004 06:05 PM [permalink]:

Some gardens are destroyed to be replaced with apartments, some pieces of forest are cleared to be converted to farms. We cannot do much about it. But
there are other cases that trees are broken for no good reason. I have seen many kids and even grown-ups that shake young trees and break them just
because "they feel like it." Talking and discussing
about such issues can put an end to this kind of behaviour.

ref lexxo at April 5, 2004 04:30 PM [permalink]:

Start with yourself and look around you, try to improve your own direct environment.
Then talk to your neighbours and tell them what they can improve in their environment.
As i travelled through the north off iran last october i saw little awareness of cleaning things up, and that is where it starts not at NGO`S or other instances.
As I walked on the beach in chalus,it was only rubbish that i saw,and maybe the sea was polluted but it sure wasn`t the only thing.
Consumption may be relatively low in Iran, but with this attitude i wouldn`t like to imagine how things look like with a higher consumption as things go beter in Iran.
Of course this is not an unique problem of iran it happens in many developping country`s, but it is such a pity they all make the same mistakes.
Off course there are a lot of things that can not be solved by individuals but if nobody cares, it will not be solved by anyone.
So the first thing is awareness, and that starts in your own backyard.

shahin at April 7, 2004 07:56 PM [permalink]:

I had some comments on what ref Lexxo has mentioned. First, I think that NGO's are built to organize the activities of people pursuing similar goals and certainly increasing public awareness at any level about any issue, of course including the environmental issues, can be among such goals. Second, I think environmental activities can be (and should be) followed
at many different layers, family, neighbourhood, city, country and even the whole globe, and at different levels, social, cultural and if possible policital (and governing bodies). Such activities are not exclusive and often times they are complementary.
Unfortunately it seems that developed countries have not so better records on large scale pollutions which, to my mind (morally) is worse than dropping rubbish on the streets of the city that you yourself live in. Of course the latter in any way does not justify the former and vice versa.