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Iranian Oil City Hit By Mysterious Polluted Rain

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

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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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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