By Majid Rafizadeh
April 16, 2019
The official death toll from recent massive flooding in Iran stands at around 77, but it is more likely that well over 250 people have been killed by the disaster and as a result of bungled relief efforts.
The Tehran government has been credibly accused of downplaying the casualty figures, and it is hard not to take these accusations seriously in the wake of reports that the judiciary has threatened flood victims and their families with prosecution if they speak publicly or post on social media about their experiences.
If that wasn’t bad enough, it has also been reported that Iranian security forces, the military, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are all on the ground in flood-ravaged areas, but are generally more focused on suppressing dissent and preserving the theocratic regime’s reputation than contributing to relief efforts.
While collective action by the public may help speed the recovery process in the wake of this and other disasters, it will do little to prevent their recurrence. For that to happen, the political establishment must either accept drastic changes or suffer domestic rebellion.
The seriousness of the recent flooding can be blamed, in large part, on the systematic mismanagement of natural resources by the government, and the rampant neglect of safety procedures and ecological assessments by private-sector companies that are under the control of the IRGC.
Well over half of the country’s gross domestic product is controlled by the IRGC, either directly or through a series of front companies according to the Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
The IRGC and its affiliates are subject to virtually no government oversight, and so have undertaken projects that are now being blamed for worsening the flooding crisis.
Among these are construction projects immediately next to waterways, widespread dam-building coupled with poor maintenance, and infrequent dredging of affected rivers and lakes. Previously, the paramilitary’s disregard for environmental impacts was blamed for exacerbating the effects of long-term, nationwide drought.
Now, Iran is seeing the opposite side of that same coin in the form of some of the worst flash-flooding in the 40-year history of the republic.
The government’s role in all this has often consisted of opting to take no role whatsoever. This was made particularly apparent last year following the forced resignation of Kaveh Madani, a Western-educated ecology expert who had left a post at Imperial College London to take on the role of deputy head of Iran’s Department of the Environment.
Madani was widely lauded as the person most likely to save Iran from its worsening environmental degradation. But among powerful hard-line figures, this optimism was very much outweighed by suspicion over his connections to the West. Madani’s forced resignation came immediately after he was arrested and interrogated for 72 hours.
At roughly the same time, the IRGC spearheaded the arrest of nine other environmentalists who would ultimately be accused of using their professional work as cover for spying.
The real motivation for these arrests seemed to be related to the fact that environmental impact reports threatened to challenge the IRGC’s choice of location for new missile sites.
No evidence has been presented to suggest any of these people committed a crime, apart from confessions that were extracted via torture and immediately recanted.
Even before authorities secured this foundation for a legal case against the environmentalists, one of them, an Iranian-Canadian professor named Kavous Seyed-Emami, died in custody.
Four of the remaining eight have since been charged with “spreading corruption on earth,” which can carry the death penalty.
If capital sentences are passed and carried out, it will demonstrate the IRGC’s willingness to actively murder Iranian citizens simply for the sake of continuing the sorts of activities that contributed, over the past two weeks, to the deaths of dozens of flood victims.
Meanwhile, reports indicate hard-liners are presently jostling to exploit the flood damage and further tighten their grip on Iranian commerce and society.
According to the regime’s own Fars News Agency, IRGC Gen. Mohammed Ali Jafari has been putting pressure on the government to finance an IRGC-led reconstruction effort, rather than for more effectively coordinated rescue and recovery efforts.
The only likely effect of this will be the continued misappropriation of funds by a paramilitary organization that has channeled countless millions of dollars into Iran-backed militias outside Iran’s borders in the midst of economic and ecological crises.
This situation has led the leader of the Iranian opposition, Maryam Rajavi, to issue a statement on Twitter calling on “the public, particularly the youths, to form their popular councils and independently act to aid the affected people.”
“The mullahs do nothing but preserving their shameless rule and plundering the people. National solidarity and cooperation is the only way to confront the flash floods,” she said.
The pain being experienced by the Iranian public is likely to get much worse unless the international community sanctions the IRGC and isolates its activities to such an extent that it becomes impossible to put more Iranian wealth into its hands.