Add insult to injury: Hour al-Azim wildfire is still haunting Khuzestan

July 16, 2018

TEHRAN — While the southwestern province of Khuzestan is a victim of recurrent sand and dust storms, smoke rising from a wildfire in Hour al-Azim wetland, which has lasted for almost two weeks now, is adding insult to injury.

The raging fire sweeping through Hour al-Azim, a transboundary body of water shared between Iran and Iraq, started on July 2 and originated mainly in the Iraqi part of the wetland, according to Mehr news agency. 

However, the wildfire is belching out choking smoke in many cities, including Ahvaz, Howeyzeh, Mahshahr, Susangerd, Bostan and even Shadegan in the province.

The report stated that occasionally fire breaks in canebrakes in parts of the wetland located in Khuzestan, but it is soon extinguished by Iranian forces. Also as the wetland is filled with water in Iran the fire cannot spread and extinguishes within a few hours.

Khuzestan provincial department of environment chief Ahmadreza Lahijanzadeh has said that so far some 13,000 hectares of the wetland is burnt in fire in Iraq.

Lahijanzadeh has also explained that southward winds would ignite the fire as the southern parts of the wetland are dried and more prone to catch fire.

He also highlighted that photos of burnt buffalos going viral on news agencies and social media are not related to the recent events. 

Joint committees, including Iranian and Iraqi officials are following up on the issue, he added.

Nazem Soboti, Howeyzeh governor, also explained that some 300 hectares of Hour al-Azim is already burnt in Khuzestan. 

All health care centers are on call in Howeyzeh and on average some 10 patients suffering respiratory diseases sparked by the smoke from fires referred to the centers every day. 

Iran has expressed readiness to send helicopters to Iraq combat wildfires, Soboti said, adding that satellite images indicates that the fire is extinguishing in some parts of the wetland but as the land area affected by the fire are vast some part are still burning in fire. 

While the fire is almost contained in Iran the smoke is still a health threat for citizens of the southwestern province. 

According to Air Now website smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic materials burn. The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles. These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into your lungs. They can cause a range of health problems, from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases. Exposure to particle pollution is even linked to premature death.

People with heart or lung disease, persons with diabetes, children and elderlies are those who are more at risk. 

Foul air quality is not the only problem the province is struggling with. Early in July protests sparked in the cities of Khorramshahr and Abadan in the province mainly over the poor quality of water and increased salinity of municipal water. 

MQ/MG

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