A view of flood-hit areas in Sistan-Baluchestan province (March 2024)

Iranian Government Accused Of Abandoning Flood Victims

Wednesday, 03/06/2024

About two weeks since the onset of floods in eastern Iran, closed roads and tens of thousands stranded without access to food and water have prompted the president to visit the region in response to widespread criticism.

Dozens of villages have been affected with citizens independently working to reopen roads to deliver aid. Frustration mounts among local residents as governmental aid remains scarce. "Not even a helicopter has been sent for aid to the flood victims of Sistan and Baluchestan; only provincial and national officials flew over once and left!" remarked a local official.

Finally, after over a week of silence, government authorities have acknowledged the crisis. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei admitted on Tuesday that the floods have inflicted significant damage on the people of Sistan and Baluchestan in a nod to the disaster facing the population.

President Ebrahim Raisi started a tour of the region on Wednesday. Earlier in the day, Sepehr Khalaji, Raisi’s chief publicity man, reacted to the criticism about the government’s handling of the situation, saying that although the Interior Ministry was busy with the elections, rescue and relief teams were dispatched and the minister himself visited the flood-affected areas. “All necessary work has been done... people are not abandoned.”

On Tuesday, Ali Akbar Mehrabian, the Minister of Energy, traveled to Sistan-Baluchestan to assess the extent of damage to infrastructure, according to reports from media affiliated with the government in Iran.

Despite claims from government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi that relief efforts were initiated promptly, access roads to 46 flood-affected villages remain blocked, and 31 villages are still grappling with water shortages.

People walking in flood-hit areas in Sistan-Baluchestan province (March 2024)

Since the floods began on February 25, more than 10,000 people have been affected. Official reports indicate the destruction of at least 300 homes and damage to over 1,500 others. Agricultural land, orchards, wells, greenhouses, livestock units, and historical sites have also suffered extensive damage.

Mojtaba Saadatian, the deputy for cultural heritage, handicrafts, and tourism of Sistan and Baluchestan, stated that due to the extreme weather, 37 historical sites in the province have been damaged.

The crisis looks set to continue over the coming days as the Meteorological Organization forecasts intensifying rainfall. An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.6 further rattled the province, highlighting the vulnerability of the affected areas.

Criticism mounts against governmental priorities, with citizens accusing authorities of neglecting flood victims in favor of political pursuits. Reports emerged of ballot boxes for Friday's elections being dispatched to flood-affected areas amidst the ongoing crisis, fueling public outrage.

Mowlavi Abdolhamid, the outspoken Sunni Friday prayer leader of Zahedan, has condemned the government's failure to plan and provide infrastructure to mitigate floods. Calls for assistance persist, with appeals for heating appliances, blankets, mattresses, hygiene items, food supplies, mineral water, and tents to support flood victims.

He was banned from visiting the affected areas this week, his convoy intercepted by security forces at a police checkpoint along the Zahedan-Khash road, with two of his teenage sons detained. 

Mohammad Mehdi Sajjadi, CEO of the Red Crescent, said on Saturday that water levels had risen up to half a meter and even more in many flood-affected villages.

"The floods are severe to the extent that even rescue operations are challenging, and teams sent to deliver supplies to areas besieged by floods could not return and are trapped in the region," he said.

However, many of the stranded victims have been reluctant to leave their homes, he explained, "complicating relief efforts".

It is unclear how many people have lost their lives amid the crisis. Official statistics claim there have as yet been no deaths, but Baluch sources say at least five have died.

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