Iranians fear more hardships as US sanctions begin to bite

The new US sanctions has resulted into skyrocketing prices for everything from clothes and transportation to food. (AFP)
Updated 07 November 2018
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Iranians fear more hardships as US sanctions begin to bite

  • The result has been skyrocketing prices for everything from clothes and transportation to food
  • Tehran said on Tuesday it had so far been able to sell as much oil as it needs despite US pressure, but urged European countries that oppose the sanctions to do more to shield Iran

TEHRAN/MOSCOW/ANKARA: Iranians already struggling to get by amid spiraling prices fear even more hardship is on the way with the restoration of crippling US sanctions, which Russia and Turkey say are not legitimate.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday said Moscow, itself a target of separate US sanctions, expected there would be ways to pursue economic cooperation with Iran despite the reimposition of sanctions on the country’s oil, banking and transport sectors.

Speaking in Madrid, Lavrov said Washington had used “unacceptable methods” to pressure operators of the SWIFT global financial network into cutting off Iranian banks.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the sanctions were aimed at upsetting the global balance and against international law.

“We don’t find the (Iran) sanctions appropriate,” Erdogan was quoted as saying by the state-run Anadolu news agency.

“Because to us, they are aimed at upsetting the global balance,” he added. "They are against international law and diplomacy. We don’t want to live in an imperial world.”

Erdogan's comments came after his Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned that isolating Iran was “dangerous.”

Russia and its European partners were looking for ways to maintain economic ties with Tehran, he said after meeting his Spanish counterpart Josep Borrell, but provided no details.

Tehran said on Tuesday it had so far been able to sell as much oil as it needs despite US pressure, but urged European countries that oppose the sanctions to do more to shield Iran.

At a Tehran pharmacy, customers said medicines were already getting further out of reach. Manijeh Khorrami, who had come to buy tablets for his diabetic mother, said the Iranian-made version’s price had tripled since the summer and the foreign version was no longer available.

“Can it get worse than the current situation?” Khorrami said. “I don’t know what will happen.”

The new sanctions end all economic benefits the US had granted Tehran for its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which requires it to curb its uranium enrichment. President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord in May, saying it did not address Iran’s regional military activities and other issues.

Iran’s national currency, the rial, has plummeted for months and is now trading at 150,000 to one US dollar, compared to around 40,500 a year ago. The new sanctions will likely undermine the rial even more since they target Iran’s oil industry, a crucial source of hard currency. They also target dozens of Iranian banks, aiming to push the financial sector deeper into isolation.

The result has been skyrocketing prices for everything from clothes and transportation to food.

“Check the shops here one by one, there are no customers,” said Hossein Ahmadi, whose purse shop is located on a normally busy commercial street in the Iranian capital. “People have kept their money for rainy days out of fear of sanctions while rent of the shop has gone up.”

“I don’t know how to explain this to my wife and children,” he said.

At nearby clothes shops, a few women looked through the scarves and coats.

“A lot of people are not able to buy these things anymore,” said one 22-year-old shopper, Mina Sholeh.

Washington has issued a list of 12 demands Iran must meet to get the sanctions lifted, including ending its support for regional militant groups, withdrawing from the civil war in Syria — where it backs Bashar Assad — and halting its development of ballistic missiles. On Friday, Trump said the objective is “to force the regime into a clear choice: Either abandon its destructive behavior or continue down the path toward economic disaster.”

In large part, the bet is that Iran’s leadership will be pressured by public outrage. Iran’s economic chaos sparked anti-government protests at the end of last year, which resulted in nearly 5,000 reported arrests and at least 25 people being killed. At the time, the Trump administration cheered the protests.

Demonstrations have become sporadic and rare. But bitterness remains among many Iranians who complain about corruption and their government’s costly interventions in Syria and Iraq.

“The government is wealthy, it sells oil abroad but it does not care about ordinary people,” said Mohammad Ghasemi, who sells scarves on a street corner. 

“They waste money where it does nothing to cure the wounds in our heart.”


How ‘liquid of life’ is under threat in the Middle East

Updated 22 March 2019
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How ‘liquid of life’ is under threat in the Middle East

  • An increasing number of people in the region do not have access to clean water and basic sanitation
  • In 2015, there were more than 51 million people in the Arab region lacking access to basic drinking water services, and more than 74 million without access to basic sanitation services

DUBAI: World Water Day had somewhat of an abysmal feel to it across the Middle East this year, as the region witnesses a growing number of people with no access to supplies of the vital resource.

Although the issue of supply has always been critical for the Arab region, known to be one of the most water-scarce in the world, matters are only getting worse with a rise in refugees and the displaced.

“The freshwater scarcity situation is aggravated by several factors, such as dependency on shared water resources, climate change, pollution, non-revenue water losses from aging systems, intermittency, inefficient use, and high population growth,” said Ziad Khayat, first economic affairs officer in water resources in the Sustainable Development Policies Division at the United Nations’ Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). “Occupation and conflict also affect people’s ability to access water and sanitation services. The Arab region is perhaps the only one in the world still experiencing direct military occupation.”

He spoke of the Israeli occupation of Arab territories, which affects access to water resources and the ability of countries to properly manage and provide required water and sanitation services, with a ripple effect on food security, health and development. “Armed conflict in the region has resulted in the destruction of the water and sanitation infrastructure, hampering the provision of safe drinking water and sanitation,” he said. “In response to shortages, households resort to unregulated water vendors relying on compromised resources, such as unprotected wells. In addition, damaged wastewater systems have resulted in river waters and shallow wells becoming contaminated.”

Water shortages and electricity outages have rendered many health care facilities non-functional, while vulnerability to the outbreak of waterborne diseases, particularly for people living in conflict-affected countries, has greatly increased. “The systemic conditions affecting the Arab region’s water security are not expected to improve in the near future,” he said. “In fact, climate variability and change are projected to impose additional pressures, with adverse impacts on the quantity and quality of freshwater resources in an already water-scarce region, affecting its ability to ensure food security, sustain rural livelihoods and preserve ecosystems.”

A higher frequency and intensity of floods, droughts and extreme weather is being experienced in many countries, which aggravates the situation of vulnerable communities and has led to economic losses and environmental degradation in several parts of the region. “The region has a high population growth rate and is one of the most urbanized in the world, with more than 58 percent of the population now living in cities,” Khayat said. “It has witnessed significant and uneven urban transformations, with some countries undergoing rapid wealth generation, others confronting economic challenges, and several afflicted by conflicts that have led to major displacement and migration of large sections of the population.”

Such trends are expected to place more stress on the urban infrastructure, particularly in water, given the scarcity conditions in the region. And with 86 percent of the region’s population — or nearly 362 million people — living in countries under water scarcity or absolute water scarcity, action is needed. “The predictions are that water scarcity is only going to get worse unless we change the way we manage the resource,” said Monika Weber-Fahr, executive secretary at the Global Water Partnership. “I remain an optimist. We were able to meet some of the water-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and now, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there is a new and broader resolve to, not just improve water supply and sanitation, but take a more holistic approach to managing water, including its transboundary aspects.”

“Leaving no one behind” is the theme of this year’s World Water Day at the UN. The central challenge, Weber-Fahr believes, is that to achieve efficient, equitable, and sustainable water management, all parties must have genuine opportunities to actively participate in water management decisions. “Only then can decisions be taken that reflect how we all value water — reflecting its social, economic and environmental value,” she said. “We need to create a safe space for people to come together to build common ground for water management decisions, working with everyone, everywhere.”

In 2015, there were more than 51 million people in the Arab region lacking access to basic drinking water services, and more than 74 million without access to basic sanitation services. Access to water and sanitation  is also lacking in rural areas compared with urban areas. “The record shows that in the past 10 to 12 years in the Arab region, the overall proportion of population with access to safe drinking water has improved from 85 percent to 90, almost reaching the global average of 91, but deteriorated in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Yemen, where it dropped from 94 percent to 88 due to military occupation, civil conflicts and insufficient investments,” said Dr. Waleed Zubari, professor in water resources management at the Arabian Gulf University in Bahrain. “Disparity between urban and rural population in both services continues to be considerably large, especially in the lower-income countries. This is expected to continue with the civil conflicts in Syria and Yemen and in Iraq, and under the military occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of the Gaza Strip.”

If only excess water during rainy days can be stored for use during the dry months, water shortage wouldnot be much of a problem. (AN file photo)

Climate change and drought are also expected to worsen river flows, which is the main source of water for many Arab countries such as Egypt, Iraq and Syria. “Whether we have achieved a universal access to water for all the population or not, there are some challenges that will stay with us in the Arab region,” he said. “Scarcity of water resources and limited endowments facing increasing water demands due to increased population will continue to be a major challenge in the region. Another issue that needs immediate attention is the water supply and use efficiency, recycling and reusing water, considered very low in the region, and if worked on, will reduce water stress tremendously.”

Peace and stability will also help improve the situation, as well as rebuilding the water sector in countries shattered by civil war and occupation. Similarly, water management, efficiency and conservation in policies will need to progress.

For Dr. Ahmed Murad, dean of the college of science at United Arab Emirates University, said that providing clean water for the population is essential for all communities. “Historically, the absence of water could increase conflicts between nations,” he said. “Latest statistics show that about 844 million people in the world live without access to safe water, and one in nine lack the access to safe water.”

He spoke of more pronounced circumstances in the Middle East, with high temperatures and a low amount of rainfall. “Such conditions with population growth may reduce the availability of clean water due to a high demand on water resources,” he said. “The limited and diverse water resources will pressurize natural resources, and this will continue to deteriorate if no action is taken.”