In just one of many photographs posted online on Sunday, March 31, cars can be seen floating alongside half-submerged trees in the mountainous province of Hamadan. Other posts show flood-hit provinces across Iran and the huge damage caused by heavy precipitation and flash floods, which continue in many areas of the country, especially across the country’s western provinces. Several villages in the provinces of Khuzestan, Lorestan, Ilam, Kermanshah, and Qazvin, among others, have been evacuated and the roads to several cities in these provinces have been completely cut off by flooding and landslides.
The country’s Crisis Management Organization had warned that heavy rains and strong winds on March 31 were very likely to result in floods in Khuzestan, Lorestan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad, Kermanshah, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari and Ilam provinces. Salman Samani, the spokesman for the Interior Ministry, announced that the Crisis Management Coordination Council had been put on 24-hour alert in 23 provinces on order of the interior minister. He said that annual leave had been cancelled for officials working for all relevant and responsible agencies until normal conditions resumed.
Iranians celebrate the ancient holiday of Sizdah Bedar, or Nature Day, on April 2 — 13 days after the Iranian new year, which began on March 21. People usually spend the day in parks, meadows, forests, woods, and on river banks. But this year the Meteorological Organization of Iran issued a statement warning people not to travel to the western and southwestern regions on April 1 and 2. It also warned that strong winds in the provinces of Yazd, Markazi, Isfahan and Qom, as well as in southern Tehran and the northern area of Fars province might cause severe damage.
The most critical situation is in Khuzestan, where two major dams are near full capacity. Three more days of rain could cause the dams to overflow. One of them is Dez Dam, a significant structure built by US companies in the 1960s, with a height of 352 meters. Fourteen villages in the vicinity of the dams had already been evacuated and a further 36 were evacuated on March 31.
Rouhani Criticizes the Revolutionary Guards
The ongoing crisis has led to a dispute between the government and the Revolutionary Guards, a hostility that has arisen before in times of national emergency.
A spokesman for the Revolutionary Guards announced that all the Guards’ engineering and relief units across the country had been put on alert. Simultaneously, First Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri traveled to Kermanshah to meet with officials from the provincial Crisis Management Headquarters’ about the expected devastating floods in the province.
President Rouhani and the Guards’ Commander-in-Chief General Mohammad Ali Jafari have been trading accusations and insults regarding each other's ability for problem-solving at a time when these skills are much needed.
On March 24, Guards’ engineers carried out three explosions at three points along the railway tracks north of the city of Aqqala in the flood-stricken province of Golestan to release water accumulated on one side of the railway — as it happens, the railway was built by the Guards. Mohsen Rezai, the Guards’ former commander, referred to it as "the explosion of hope." Three days later, the Guards’ current commander, General Jafari, ordered other explosions to demolish a road near Gomishan in the same province to, he said, “let flood water pour into the Caspian Sea.” These operations received generous praise from the media affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards.
But on March 29 state-run TV broadcast a video several times [in Persian] of Rouhani criticizing General Jafari, without referring to him by name, for ordering the demolition of the railway tracks. Unlike the Guards’ confidence in the move, Rouhani said "the explosions did not make any difference to the situation,” adding: “It was like taking water from one bowl and pouring it into another."
General Jafari retaliated by posting his own video on March 30 [in Persian], referring to Rouhani's comment as "an accusation," and stating that government bodies have failed to offer as much help as the Revolutionary Guards Corps has, adding that further explosions were underway to alleviate the situation.
“I wish Mr. Rouhani would have paid a little attention to statements that the [flood] victims made to reporters and which were broadcast [on TV],” said Hasan Shariatmadari, the managing editor of the hardliner daily newspaper Kayhan [Persian link]. “He would have seen their gratitude toward the Guards, the [paramilitary] Basij, the Red Crescent, the Emergency Organization, jihadi forces and government agencies that were present at the scene. Instead of saying a simple ‘thank you’ to the Guards and all forces present at the scene...he made this questionable criticism that was immediately welcomed by foreign media.” He also criticized Rouhani for his delay in visiting the flooded provinces of Golestan and Mazandaran instead of “apparently vacationing on Qeshm Island.”
Rouhani’s tardiness in visiting flooded areas has also been criticized by many people on social networks.
A Foreign Conspiracy
While many environmental experts have been discussing factors behind the recent floods including deforestation, Tasnim News Agency, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, claimed that the floods were the result of “climatic manipulation” by enemies of the Islamic Republic [Persian link]. “There are strong reasons to believe that recent floods are the result of the manipulation of the climate by foreigners,” the agency claimed.
Tasnim was not alone in making such claims. Before the floods and when many people were preoccupied by the drought, Gholamreza Jalali, the head of Iran’s Civil Defense Organization, had talked about “suspicions” that climate change in Iran was the work of foreigners. He claimed that “joint committees by Turkey and Israel” had stolen moisture and snow from the clouds over Iran. He also claimed that Iran’s scientific institutions had confirmed his claims.
At the time, Ahmad Vazifeh, director general of the weather bureau at Iran’s Meteorological Organization rejected Jalali’s claim. “It is not possible for a country to steal snow or clouds,” he said. Nevertheless, Tasnim repeated this claim and called on authorities to investigate it.
Iran Floods: What are the Government’s Legal Duties?, March 29, 2019
Rouhani Visits Devastated Areas as Floods Continue, March 28, 2019
Iran’s Budget for Religion 80 Times Higher Than Disaster Relief, March 28, 2019
As Environmentalists Perish in Prison..., March 26, 2019
Iran’s New Year Floods, March 25, 2019