Residents of cities and villages adjacent to Ahvaz rivers act to prevent flooding. (Tasnim)

By Bahram Khodabandeh

December 10, 2020

Large parts of southern Iran are currently submerged in mud, as floods have caused destruction once again. Water has taken the property, and the lives, of many Iranians.

No one was prepared for the latest crisis. Blighted by financial crisis, the government appears unable to help. Some people have called on the Crisis Management Organization to do something. But, they ask, after the harmful experiences of the past years, has the budget for crisis management increased?

At the same time, there are many institutions with much higher allocated budgets, most of them organizations that are not tasked with relief work or anything related to areas and people hard-hit by floods. For example, the Jame al-Mustafa al-Alamiyeh, a religious university, has a 2020-2021 budget of 467 billion tomans [$19m], 26 times higher than the Crisis Management Organization.

Some of these organizations granted higher budgets feature on the United States sanctions list, including Jame al-Mustafa al-Alamiyeh, which it highlights as a propaganda outfit.

An accurate or official estimate of the extent of the recent flood damage is not currently available. The media reported the death of nine people in the recent floods. News sites, quoting local sources, have published a range of statistics and figures on flood damage in the provinces of Khuzestan, Bushehr, and Fars.

Although there are no available statistics, Iran’s officials — even those at the top — know the situation is dire. On December 7, the minister of interior appealed to the head of the Planning and Budget Organization about the matter in a letter. He demanded 200 billion tomans from current resources, 400 billion tomans from the Housing Foundation’s bank facilities, and 24 billion tomans from the development fund to provide for 80 water discharge pumps.

Floods bring damage to many parts of Iran on an annual basis, and southern parts of the country are particularly badly hit. And it has become a regular occurrence, too, for both local and national leaders to call for people affected by natural disasters to receive compensation and the support they need, though these calls rarely produce the required results.

Climate change has ushered in a range of severe weather hazards, and with them, natural crises have intensified. But there is little evidence that the government or the Iranian people are prepared for such disasters, and there has not been any increase in crisis management measures.

The Budget and Crisis Management

The 2020-2021 budget mentions crisis management three times, twice as a temporary cost and once as an ongoing cost.

Where it is mentioned as an ongoing or regular cost, 14 billion tomans has been allocated to the Crisis Management Organization, an insignificant number compared to the budget allocated to religious institutions.

In an article published in summer 2019, IranWire noted that the budget for the Crisis Management Organization is 180 less than the budget for the Seminary Service Centers. In addition:

— The organization’s budget is one-twelfth less than the Qom Seminary Islamic Propaganda Office;

— one twenty-fourth of the amount allocated to the Endowment and Charity Organization;

— one twenty-fourth of the budget for the Supreme Council of Seminaries;

— one-seventh less than Khorasan Seminaries;

— one-thirteenth of the Sisters Seminaries fund;

— one-eighth of the Leadership Institution for Universities; and

— half of the budget for Ayatollah Khomeini’s Shrine

The budget for 2021-2022 increases funds for the Crisis Management Organization to approximately 18 billion tomans. Out of this, more than 13.5 billion tomans will be spent to pay the salaries and benefits of staff. About 4 billion tomans will be spent on “goods and services”. Less than 180 million tomans [$7,200] have been classified for the organization’s “other expenses”. In fact, all the allocated funds will be spent on the administrative affairs of the organization, which, under Iranian legislation, is the country’s primary institution for planning and crisis management. Part of the organization’s mission is to initiate prevention plans and programs to reduce damage and increase resilience in the face of natural disasters, the implementation of which requires a separate detailed budget.

The budget for 2020-2021 includes allocations for  “miscellaneous” items. One budget row is entitled “Credits for Article 16 of the Crisis Management Law,” the value of which is estimated at about 300 billion tomans, of which 100 billion tomans represents the current budget and 200 billion tomans constitutes development funds. Article 16 of the Crisis Management Law refers to “measures to prevent and reduce risk and increase crisis preparedness.”

No information is available on what part of the temporary budget has been spent in the current year, but given the government’s financial crisis and budget deficit, money is unlikely to have been spent on prevention.

Funds for preventative measures have increased in next year’s budget, to 600 billion tomans. In that budget, 500 billion tomans of current funds and 100 billion tomans of development funds have been allocated for use, but there is no further explanation about what exactly this money is going to be spent on. So far, no official report has been published showing what practical measures have been taken to protect cities and villages from floods and earthquakes.

Temporary allocations are also earmarked for “Credits for Article 17 of the Crisis Management Law,” meaning that funds can be provided if necessary. The ceiling for these temporary funds for this year’s budget is 30 trillion tomans; for next year’s budget, it is 46 trillion tomans.

Article 17 of the Crisis Management Law allows for compensation based on a legal clause set out in the 2014 Annexation Law. Paragraph M of Article 28 of the Annexation Law allows the government to allocate five percent of the public budget in the form of petty cash for “awareness, prevention, relief, reconstruction and renovation of areas affected by unforeseen events, including flood, earthquake, frost, hail, hurricane, fire, dust, seawater advance, widespread pests of agricultural products, human and animal epidemics, animal and wildlife and drought management.”

According to the law, the government is required to plan for compensation for damages caused by natural disasters. Economic and financial crises in Iran have prevented insurance management plans from becoming active as they are in other countries.

On the other hand, there are no plans in place to prevent or reduce potential damage. On budget sheets, these measures are listed as sub-programs and miscellaneous activities, and are not a priority in the eyes of the Islamic Republic. Instead, the country’s leaders focus on the overwhelming costs of military plans and projects and multibillion-dollar budgets for religious and ideological propaganda. Much of this is to do with the regime being partial to big, abstract ideas. These concepts may sound impressive, but they have done very little to alleviate the suffering of Iranians in flood areas or in areas vulnerable to other natural disasters.

The official budgets presented by the Islamic Republic show a clear priority in funding military and religious initiatives, and politicians’ statements and actions reinforce these priorities. There are also likely “unofficial” budgets that honor the same system of priorities. In this environment, discussions about the need to prepare for natural disasters, which are on the rise due to climate change and other factors, are less than welcome. And that means actual planning rarely gets underway.

Iran Wire

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.