An invisible killer is claiming lives in Iranian Kurdistan, where the cities of Sanandaj and Kermanshah figure in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) top 10 worst cities in the world for air pollution.
Sanandaj (Sina) and Kermanshah, where traffic jams and car fumes are a daily nuisance, had to issue warnings and even close schools throughout the winter to protect children’s health. The pollution has created grave health problems, for a population living in some of Iran’s poorest and most deprived regions.
Unlike other polluted cities of the world, where the air is dirtied by factories and industries, Sanandaj and Kermanshah do not have major factories or coal mines, which are seen to be typical sources of air pollution.
Almost 270 Iranians reportedly die each day from pollution-related illnesses.
After years of evading the main cause of air pollution, Iranian authorities finally officially admitted what many Iranians had suspected all along: Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh blamed sub-standard gasoline as the root of the problem.
But earlier this year authorities denied the allegation, as air pollution has become a sensitive political issue in Iran.
In 2010, after the United States tightened sanctions on Iran in response to its suspected nuclear weapons program, former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proudly announced the launch of a “resistance economy,” declaring that Iran was refining its own gasoline.
But authorities finally confessed that the supplies were in fact low-grade gasoline, which experts blame for some 88 percent of the air pollution.
The WHO 2013 Index also lists the Iranian cities of Ahvaz and Yasouj among its top 10 most polluted. The air pollution in the Iranian cities is estimated to be three times worse than Beijing, which is often touted for its heavy smog.
Even though they live in some of the world’s most polluted cities, most Kurds are unaware of the fact, and automatically think of the capital, Tehran, when the subject of air pollution is raised.
“I have never heard of pollution problems in Sanandaj,” says Roya, who has lived in the city for 44 years.