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Iranian Oil City Hit By Mysterious Polluted Rain

An oil field outside of Ahwaz
An oil field outside of Ahwaz

For world leaders in Paris trying to reach a historic deal to protect the environment, it is worth looking at the Iranian city of Ahwaz.

For at least three years, this city of 1.4 million has been hit each autumn with spells of polluted rain that have caused breathing difficulties for thousands of residents. Even though Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has made environmental protection a key part of his reformist agenda, authorities have still not been able to identify the cause of the dirty rain.

Ahwaz is in southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan, in the heart of the country's oil producing region. Although it is not uncommon in Iran to experience air pollution and severe dust storms, which local authorities say originate in Iraq, the newspaper E'temaad reports that incipient autumn rains in Ahwaz stand out as an urgent health crisis, having sent some 50,000 "people rushing to hospitals with breathing difficulties" over the past three years.

This year, the polluted rains have extended to the city of Masjid Suleiman in northern Khuzestan and the Iraqi city of Basra. E'temaad reports that authorities have confirmed that the rain is "not acid" rain, but was probably due to a range of causes. Locals, however, suspect a cover-up for industrial pollution.

A local taxi driver named Adnan told the newspaper he was feeling so sick one day while driving that he had to stop and let one of his passengers drive him to a hospital. "Now I am afraid every time it rains," he told the daily.

The provincial environmental chief, Ahmadreza Lahijanzadeh, said that experts had whittled down the initial 18 possible causes or sources of polluting particles to four, including pollen or dust from an imported, eucalyptus-type tree.

For the climate experts gathered in Paris, the collective sound of coughing in Ahwaz is just the latest reminder that the global crisis is the sum (and more) of so many local crises.

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