April 3, 2019
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told high-ranking civilian officials and military commanders Tuesday evening, April 2, that they should have anticipated damage caused by floods and prepared for it.
He said rivers and dams should have been dredged before the floods, construction in the vicinity of rivers should have been banned and cutting of trees should have been prevented among other necessary measures.
As Khamenei criticized lack of preparedness, he is the top leader who controls the most important levers of power in Iran. He can fire officials and choose their replacements with a subtle signal or clear order to the executive, judiciary and even legislative branches of the state.
Parallel with criticism, Khamenei also praised assistance rendered to the flood-hit citizens as “outstanding”. This is needed to convince the people that the ruling establishment has not completely failed. Khamenei also ordered officials to take “serious measures to solve the problems of those who have suffered losses.”
President Hassan Rouhani who was conspicuously absent in this meeting, while his vice president Es’haq Jahangiri was sitting next to Khamenei. Rouhani was criticized by some social media users for disappearing from the scene after a few visits to disaster areas.
Commenting on Rouhani’s absence, Presidential Adviser Hesamoddin Ashna told ISNA news agency that Rouhani has been following relief efforts all day on Monday and the reason for Jahangiri’s presence was that he had just visited flood-hit areas.
Social media users also lambasted organizations in charge of relief efforts for their poor performance and lack of coordination.
This comes while Khamenei praised “high-ranking officials and military commanders” for their “presence and coordination” in the troubled areas.
Khamenei’s comments also contradicts Rouhani’s criticism of IRGC’s activities in flood-hit areas in the north, where the Corps demolished parts of a railway to let flood water pass to downstream areas calling the measure “useless.” Rouhani’s statement elicited angry reaction by IRGC Commander-in-Chief Mohammad Ali Jafari.
IRGC commanders have continued attacks on Rouhani’s government for inadequate response to the disaster. One commander even said on April 2 that residents in Lorestan province are in “rebellious mood” and officials would not dare to show up in the area.
Earlier on Tuesday, Vice-President Jahangiri who was stranded in flood-hit areas in southwestern Iran because of airports closures, said he was going to Tehran for “a very important urgent meeting.”
Others observed in pictures released by Iranian news agencies include top IRGC commanders, as well as Jahangiri, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli and Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian who briefed Khamenei on the situation of dams in flooded areas.
Khamenei said that officials should take a lesson from current floods and to apply those lessons in the construction of dams, roads, railways, as well as in various areas of urban planning in the future.
The railways with no water outlet underneath, which led to major flooding in Golestan province in northern Iran, was constructed by IRGC’s financial conglomerate Khatam ol-Anbia.
Environment experts have blamed widespread human deforestation, development of areas close to major streams and irresponsible exploitation of mines as major reasons for the destructiveness of March floods that demolished tens of thousands of houses and damaged countless other residential units as well as farmlands and businesses across Iran during the last two weeks of March and the early days of April.
Investigative journalist Yashar Soltani wrote on Twitter that 70 percent of forests in the widely flooded Golestan province are at the disposal of “influential individuals and companies” for exploitation. Others on social media have named top clerics in the province being among those who benefit from widespread deforestation.
Soltani reported that 47,013 hectares of forests have been given to the Gorgan Seminary and another 13,000 hectares to the IRGC. The holy Shrine of Mashad also “owns” 991 hectares of forests in the same area.
Environmental Agency Chief Isa Kalantari told reporters that there were 2.8 million hectares of forests in northern Iran 60 years ago, but currently there are only 1.3 million hectares, which other reports say have been allocated to well-connected companies and individuals for wood-cutting and housing projects.
The latest reports from Iran say 57 people have died in the floods in various areas since March 20 and as many as 478 are wounded. Current estimates put damages at around 120 trillion rials ($1billion based on free market rates, $3 billion based on official rate). However, this is an initial estimate and the more accurate amount of damages will not be known for months after flood waters subside. Based on similar past instances, an accurate estimate might not emerge at all for political reasons. The higher the estimate, the more responsibility will lie with the Islamic Republic establishment.