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6 Iranian recovery from industrial devastation during war with Iraq

Hooshang Amirahmadi

Military and strategic context
Impacts of the war on human health and long-term habitability of the region
Recovery from war
Conceptual framework for a model of post-war reconstruction and industrial hazard recovery
Improving recovery and policy implications


Mainstream literature about industrial disasters hardly recognizes the relevance of war. Yet war is a major destroyer of industrial facilities. Ongoing wars in the former Yugoslavia and the former USSR not only have killed tens of thousands of people but also have destroyed important industrial plants in places such as Sarajevo, Groznyy, and Sukhumi - with far-reaching consequences for the economic survival of those cities. The Persian Gulf War of 1990-1991 devastated the industrial bases of Iraq and Kuwait, caused substantial harm to humans, and damaged the natural environment (El-Baz and Makharita 1994). Obviously, war may trigger the same kinds of industrial disasters that occur during peacetime (e.g. fires, explosions). It can also add some new dimensions to industrial disasters (e.g. systematic, deliberate, and repeated destruction of the same facilities; contamination of industrial plants by chemical weapons). Finally, the influence of war on industrial disasters may be indirect, as in the threat of pollution from weapons-manufacturing plants, weapon-testing sites, and weapons dumps (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute [SIPRI] 1977,1980).

War is a more complex and pervasive phenomenon than industrial disaster, so planning for- and recovering from - war-related industrial disasters is likely to be a complicated business. Explanations of the origins of the war touch on many different deep-seated and wideranging attributes of society. Wars themselves are repetitive phenomena but every war is unique. Wars are also semi-continuous and more or less all-embracing. Compared with conventional industrial hazards, the period of active threat is usually prolonged during wars and a larger proportion of the citizenry are affected. Because wars leave a more complex and pervasive imprint on society, they make post-war reconstruction more challenging than restoration in the wake of industrial disasters.

The changing nature of contemporary war signals a possibility of more warrelated industrial disasters in the future as well as a wider range of other threats to the environment and human health (Winnefeld and Morris 1994). This is an outcome of trends in three factors - the technical sophistication of weaponry, the strategic logic of targeting a nation's industrial capacity during war, and the increasingly regional nature of conflict. Advances in war-making technologies such as methods of surveillance, precision-guided short-range missiles, chemical and biological warfare, helicopters, and all-weather and night vision systems, among others, ensure increased destructive capabilities. A nation's industrial capacity and associated civilian populations are increasingly favoured targets because they generate income and materials needed to maintain the war effort. Regional conflict is unquestionably on the rise (e.g. Bosnia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Philippines, Sri Lanka). During such conflicts, damage is usually restricted to small areas, which sustain repeated attacks and disproportionately heavy losses.

What follows is a case-study of industrial hazards associated with Iran's eight-year war against Iraq (1980-1988). Many of the communities in Iran's oil- and gas-producing regions were affected by this conflict. The war's impact on industry was merely one facet of the wider conflict, so the case-study is discussed in the larger context of the conflict's socio-economic impact on Iranian society (Cordesman 1990). Because neither an accurate nor a firsthand account of Iraq's experience with this war is readily available, the perspective is consciously Iranian.1 Although the account may be incomplete, the information is nevertheless believed to be accurate.

By delineating Iran's experience with the war and reconstruction, it is intended not only to analyse the relationship of war, community destruction, and industrial disaster but also to show how particular issues of recovery from industrial disasters can become caught up in broader concerns about recovery from other events that inflict more encompassing types of damage. Further, this chapter explores interconnections among local-level reconstruction priorities, national-level goals, and intervention by the international community in the post-war peace and reconstruction efforts. It is hoped that the case-study will also provide insights that lead toward creation of models of industrial disaster impact assessment and recovery for war-damaged societies and will identify obstacles to reconstruction and ways of improving implementation.

Military and strategic context

Iraq invaded Iran in September 1980 and initiated a protracted land, sea, and air conflict that lasted until August 1988, when it was brought to an end by United Nations Security Council Resolution 598. The invasion followed Saddam Hussein's unilateral abrogation of the Treaty of Algiers, which he had himself negotiated with the then Shah of Iran in 1975.2

Five Iranian provinces that border Iraq - Khuzestan, Ilam, Kermanshahan, Kurdestan, and West Azerbaijan - became active theatres of air and ground conflicts, while another 11 provinces suffered sustained aerial bombardment (fig. 6.1). These five provinces account for 10.8 per cent of Iran's land area and include the country's most heavily populated and developed region. In 1980, the war-torn region's population density was 35.4 per square mile, compared with 23.2 for the national average (Amirahmadi 1990b). Before the war, Khuzestan boasted major economic establishments, including port facilities, steel factories, oil wells and refineries, petrochemical complexes, and a major hydroelectric dam and irrigation project. Kermanshahan was considered an important centre for agriculture and traditional industry. Nearly 14,000 square kilometres of Iranian territory were occupied by Iraqi forces for most of the war.

The Iran-Iraq war was unusual for a number of reasons. Though it was the longest conventional war of the twentieth century, it was confined to a relatively small land area. A mixture of ancient and modern tactics were employed, including intensive "human wave" assaults (i.e. the simultaneous convergence of thousands of armed troops on one target) and a "war on cities" that included the use of technologically advanced artillery to target distant industries precisely (Shemirani 1993). Iraq used direct missile attacks as part of an explicit strategy to depopulate settlements and strangle the Iranian economy. The Iraqi army also used chemical and biological weapons in significant numbers, though precise figures are difficult to determine. One source lists 20 chemical rocket attacks, 284 chemical air attacks, and 74 chemical artillery attacks, which killed over 5,700 people, mostly civilians living in urban areas (Shemirani 1993). The Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabcheh was almost totally destroyed by a chemical bombardment undertaken by Iraq to prevent it falling into the hands of Iranian troops. Even now, many years after the end of open hostilities, both countries still retain stockpiles of chemical weapons.

Fig. 6.1 Front-line provinces of Iran, 1980-1988 (Source: Amirahmadi 1987: 136) (redrawn)

Impacts of the war on human health and long-term habitability of the region

Human losses
Environmental damage
Damage to human settlements and the economy

Human losses

Eight years of intense conflict exacted heavy tolls on the population of Iran. There were approximately 300,000 Iranian casualties, including 61,000 missing in action and 5,000 in Iraqi prisons. The relief and reconstruction process was further complicated by the fact that another 2.5 million Iranians have become homeless, have lost their jobs, or are displaced. Most of these have taken sanctuary in refugee camps, makeshift shacks, and temporary shelters in major urban centres or in peripheral areas of war zones (Amirahmadi 1990b: 63). A government survey taken after the end of hostilities revealed that 593,000 civilians were physically and/or mentally disabled by the war (United Nations Secretary-General 1991a: 48).

The future productivity of Iran has been permanently altered; the energy and capacity of millions of productive working people who served in the war have been irretrievably lost. Almost all of them were young and dedicated to the Iranian revolution. Human development - including education - has been grievously affected. In the war region alone, more than 20 per cent (9,300) of the pre-war classrooms (44,300) were damaged or destroyed. Over a third (450,000) of the region's 1.25 million students fled elsewhere. This placed great strains on receiving school systems, which were forced to teach pupils in continuous shifts (United Nations Secretary-General 1991a: 45). The provision of health care was similarly interrupted: "... a total of 102 'health houses', 84 rural health centers, 80 urban health centers and 12 provincial and/or district health centers were destroyed" (United Nations Secretary-General 1991a: 48). Water and sewerage systems in the area were also heavily damaged.

The demographic profile of Iran has been greatly altered since the beginning of the war. Many of the changes are a direct consequence of government policy to increase the national population. During the war years, population grew at more than 3.7 per cent annually; by 1988, total numbers were about 50 per cent greater than in 1976. In 1976, 17.2 per cent of Iran's population lived in the five war-affected provinces; by 1986, the proportion had fallen to 15 per cent. At present, 45 per cent of the national population are under the age of 14. Concomitant demands for social services and educational facilities pose a challenge for authorities engaged in the allocation of resources for reconstruction (United Nations Secretary-General 1991 a: 29). More recently, the government has acted to slow population growth. The new policy seems to be having some effect, but the country's population is still growing fast enough (3.2 per cent in 1992) to cause serious alarm.

Environmental damage

Information about environmental damage inflicted by the war is scattered and inconclusive. This is primarily because the Iranian authorities who were charged with reconstruction focused attention on immediate relief efforts and on rebuilding both the economy and the military. Moreover, in contrast to the Gulf War of 1990, the international community did not monitor environmental effects of the Iran-Iraq war. This is attributable both to difficulties that the mass media experienced in reporting the war and to the fact that Iran had fallen out of favour with Western governments that might otherwise have taken an interest.

Despite the lack of reliable data on environmental impacts, some effects are known (Hawley 1992; Jochnick and Normand n.d.). For example, it is known that extensive minefields and unexploded war materials in all of Iran's five war-affected provinces have posed daily hazards to local populations. Reza Malekzadeh, representative of the Iranian Ministry of Health, reported in 1991 that at least 10 people a day were wounded, maimed, or killed by live war munitions (United Nations Secretary-General 1991a: 29). It is also known that ground battles and aerial bombardments caused extensive destruction of forests - a process that was exacerbated by people searching for cooking fuel to replace normal supplies; run-off and erosion have increased as a result. During the conflict, more than 3 million date palms and 5,000 hectares of orchards were destroyed. Some 130,000 hectares of natural forests and 753,000 hectares of pasture land in the war-afflicted provinces were also rendered unusable.

The impact of war on farmland was equally significant. In Khuzestan, Ilam, and Kermanshahan, "... reconstruction of the farming sub-sector involves landleveling and grading of about 251,000 ha of irrigated farmland and rough leveling of 53,700 ha of rain-fed land" (United Nations Secretary-General 1991a: 40-41). Farmlands in the five war-impacted provinces appear to be contaminated by toxic materials emanating from chemical and biological weapons. During the war, produce from southern Iran was considered unhealthy and could not be marketed, thereby driving up prices and creating shortages.

The situation was not simply one of direct destruction and contamination. The problems of warfare were compounded by other problems, including removal of topsoil, compaction and flooding of agricultural lands, modifications of river flows, interruption of irrigation water supplies, and waterlogging and salinization due to salt water flowing onto agricultural land when irrigation canals were destroyed. Finally, study of contamination in rural areas is hampered by the presence of unidentified minefields (United Nations Secretary-General 1991a: 28-48).

Levels of environmental intoxication are much more difficult to ascertain than direct destruction, particularly because of the lack of records mentioned above but also because intoxication assessment requires fairly sophisticated technology that has been neither available in Iran nor supplied by the international environmental community. None the less, it is possible to provide a general overview of the impacts on a region-by-region basis.

The south-western provinces have experienced extreme environmental damage, particularly in the coastal strip and along main inland waterways. The Karoun River, once the mainstay of economic activity, is now heavily polluted and unusable. Among the rural population, a high incidence of diseases, especially eye infections, stomach illnesses, and skin ailments, has been reported (United Nations Secretary-General 1991a: 28-48). The exact cause of these ailments is not known, but health officials note that the rate of incidence is much higher than in areas unaffected by the war. Since the war's end there has been an alarming increase in health-threatening insects and pests. There has also been an increased incidence of acute respiratory disease, possibly as a result of war-induced toxins in the environment, as well as an increase in the number of those afflicted by severe diarrhoea, which can be more directly linked to the disruption of the provision of fresh water supplies.

The coastal region between Abadan and the Strait of Hormuz, encompassing approximately 250 square kilometres of beach, was covered in tar and asphalt. These substances posed a grave threat to already endangered species and protective vegetation. Leaks from oil tankers attacked in the Gulf are believed to be the cause (Walker 1989). Oil-related pollution is also attributed to the bombing of oil platforms in the Gulf. Capping these oil wells has taken years of effort. The territory of Iran includes many islands in the Gulf, 20 of which have been adversely affected by oil pollution and oil spills. The prawn-fishing industry has been severely threatened, owing to the destruction of mangrove and sea-grass cultures in the coastal regions of the Gulf. Sea grasses are affected by toxic hydrocarbons and contamination of sediments; oils penetrate the stomata and kill entire seagrass communities that provide nursery grounds for prawns (United Nations Secretary-General 1991b: 29). In addition, the destruction of all or part of the prawn year class has cumulative effects on subsequent catches.

Another source of contaminants is the sunken ships and wrecks that still lie in and along the Shatt-al-Arab waterway. The magnitude of the problem increases with time because currents carry contaminant cargoes throughout the waterway system and out to the Gulf. This poses a distinct threat to the fishing industry as well as to the ecology of the area, and quite possibly to the adjacent water-table. The nature of the cargo in these ships is unknown and only a substantial investigation would reveal the exact contaminants. The estimated cost of clean-up has been put by various sources at $2 billion to $4 billion. No less than two years of continuous work is needed to rehabilitate the river.

Further destabilization of the environment in southern Iran has resulted from disturbances in the Gulf region during the US-led Persian Gulf War of 1990-1991. Some of the environmental effects that are now observed in southern Iran may be traceable in part to that war.3

Damage to human settlements and the economy

Damage to settlements in Iran was enormous. The war wiped out 4,000 villages, damaged 52 cities, and destroyed about 120,000 houses; 6 of the cities were completely levelled while another 15 sustained damage of 30-80 per cent. The city of Khorramshahr (1980 population 300,000) was Iran's most important port on the Gulf. It now lies in near-total ruin, having sustained destruction of 80 per cent of its buildings. Impacts in rural areas were equally great: over 30 per cent of the villages in the five most war-torn provinces were completely destroyed; others sustained severe damage. The monetary value of damage to human settlements was estimated at $13 billion for the period September 1980 to September 1985. For the entire war, human settlements damage may have exceeded $18 billion (Amirahmadi 1992a: 82).

Three types of direct economic damage resulting from the war were distinguished by the Iranian government - buildings and installations, machinery and equipment, and materials and goods (see table 6.1). The government also calculated a separate indirect economic damage category that includes opportunity costs but excludes damage to the defence sector and human losses; a value-added approach was used within a national incomeaccounting framework. The seven economic sectors for which data are available include agriculture, mining, manufacturing, oil, electricity/gas/water, construction and housing, and services.4

By the time that Iran and Iraq agreed to a cease-fire, Iran's industry was operating at only 20-30 per cent of capacity. Direct economic damage (i.e. physical destruction) inflicted on Iran amounted to a yearly average of 23.35 per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). The UN Security Council estimates that the cost of direct economic damage, excluding military damage and loss of human life, amounted to $97.3 billion. Using a different exchange rate, the Iranian government puts the figure much higher, at over $300 billion. Military damage was estimated at $50 billion. Some observers estimate that the total cost of damage is in the neighbourhood of US$1,000 billion (Athari 1991).

Of all the productive sectors, the oil sector sustained by far the most damage (table 6.2; fig. 6.2). This sector accounted for 23.96 per cent of the total direct economic damage and 59.45 per cent of the damage inflicted on all productive sectors. In these sectors, nearly 86 per cent of all the damage inflicted on buildings and installations was borne by the oil industry.

Oil installations in the Gulf region were a primary attack target. The main Iranian loading terminal, located in Kharg Island, was badly damaged in August 1982, effectively halving Iranian oil exports. Before the attacks, Kharg had an offloading capacity of 14 million barrels of oil per day at 14 berthing facilities; its 1993 capacity was just 2 million barrels per day. Of 39 crude oil storage tanks, 21 were completely destroyed by fires resulting from attacks; assuming full capacity, oil spills into the Gulf from the Kharg facility alone amounted to 12 million barrels (United Nations Secretary-General 1991a: 29)

The oil industry was, and is, extremely important to the economic viability of Iran. Oil revenues accounted for 51 per cent of total government revenues in 1983-1984 and 44 per cent of total government revenues in 1986-1987. In fact, oil revenues generally account for over 95 per cent of Iran's foreign exchange earnings and pay for the bulk of Iran's industrial inputs, food imports, and military needs. Iranian industries depend on foreign markets for over 65 per cent of their raw materials, 75 per cent of their intermediate inputs, and over 90 per cent of their capital goods. One analyst estimated that the cost of the war absorbed 60 per cent of Iran's gross national product (GNP) during the 1980-1988 period (Mofid 1990).

Table 6.1 Direct economic damage (DED) of the war, 1980-1988, from the beginning to the cease-fire (million rials, current prices)

Year Buildings and installations Machinery and equipment Materials and goods Total annual DED Annual DED as percentage of grand total Current price GDPa Total annual DED as percentage of annual GDP
1980 297,039 236,707 304,400 838,146 2.72 6,758,900 12.40
1981 343,791 448,918 244,507 1,037,216 3.37 8,218,500 12.62
1982 50,738 97,654 3,580,140 3,728,532 12.10 10,621,500 35.10
1983 1,021,087 1,203,698 2,296,948 4,521,733 14.68 13,471,300 33.57
1984 238,545 1,130,960 568,747 1,938,252 6.29 14,600,700 13.28
1985 558,119 1,056,650 2,129,796 3,744,565 12.15 15,948,200 23.48
1986 6,671,457 960,222 763,890 8,395,569 27.25 17,512,600 47.94
1987 621,670 1,330,533 1,320,906 3,273,109 10.62 20,605,400 15.88
1988 125,852 3,086,606 121,843 3,334,301 10.82 24,244,400 13.75
Grand total 9,928,298 9,551,948 11,331,177 30,811,423 100.00 131,981,500 23.35
Percentage of total 32.22 31.00 36.78 100.00    

Source: Amirahmadi (1992b: 70).
a. Gross domestic product.

Table 6.2 Sectoral distribution of direct and indirect damage of the war, 1980-1988 (million rials, current prices)

Sectors Direct economic damage Indirect economic damage Total direct and indirect damage Share of direct damage in total damage (%)
Buildings and installations Machinery and equipment Materials and goods Total Share in total (%)
A Productive sectors (total) 7,915,822 2,436,932 2,065,121 12,417,875 40.30 30,108,007 42,525,882 29.20
1 Agriculture 644,544 557,013 581,820 1,783,377 5.79 14,173,955 15,957,332 11.18
2 Mining 19,209 10,074 6,507 35,790 0.12 23,410 59,200 60.46
3 Manufacturing 154,597 1,441,900 30,363 1,626,860 5.28 851,859 2,478,719 65.63
4 Oil 6,802,044 250,786 329,795 7,382,625 23.96 13,416,915 20,799,540 35.49
5 Electricity, gas, and water 115,013 175,019 1,023,703 1,313,735 4.26 1,634,922 2,948,657 44.55
6 Construction and housing 180,415 2,140 92,933 275,488 0.89 6,946 282,434 97.54
B Service sectors (total) 2,012,476 7,115,017 9,266,055 18,393,548 59.70 4,434,319 22,827,867 80.57
1 Trade, restaurants, and hotels 682,782 35,434 8,538 726,754 2.36 15,436 742,190 97.92
2 Transportation, communication, and storage 96,528 1,027,239 106,721 1,230,488 3.99 632,059 1,862,547 66.06
3 Fiscal and monetary institutions 120,026 772 20,532 141,330 0.46 870,511 1,011,841 13.97
4 Public services 644,380 6,028,398 9,098,642 15,771,420 51.19 1,690,972 17,462,392 90.32
5 Social, personal, and household services 468,760 23,174 31,622 523,556 1.70 1,225,341 1,748,897 29.94
Grand total (A and B) 9,928,298 9,551,949 11,331,176 30,811,423 100.000 34.542,326 65,353,749 47.15

Source: Amirahmadi (1992b: 75).

Fig. 6.2 Direct economic losses by sector (Source: Plan and Budget Organization, Islamic Republic of Iran 1991: 50)

Further breakdown of sectoral damage reveals that the manufacturing sector suffered most heavily in terms of machinery and equipment, namely, loss of capital stock: it accounts for the largest share of damage in this category, at 59.17 per cent, with agriculture a distant second at 22.86 per cent. Electricity, gas, and water incurred the most damage in terms of materials and goods - constituting 49.57 per cent of the total losses to materials and goods, while agriculture accounts for 28.17 per cent of this type of damage. Within agriculture, farming suffered the most damage, followed by forestry, animal husbandry, hunting, and fisheries. Most damage in the construction sector was to buildings and installations, which constituted 65.49 per cent of the damage to that sector. Direct economic damage to the nation's public services alone accounts for 51.19 per cent of the total and 85.74 per cent of the damage sustained by the service sector as a whole. The transportation, storage, and communications sector sustained the majority of damage to its machinery and equipment, at 83.48 per cent of its direct losses. Within this sector, transportation was the hardest hit, owing to the destruction of roads, railways, and private vehicles (Plan and Budget Organization 1991).

A breakdown of the data for sectoral damage by province reveals that Khuzestan incurred 34.27 per cent of all direct economic damage (table 6.3). Khuzestan's large share of the damage was not unexpected: many petrochemical establishments, light industry facilities, oil installations, major port facilities, and modern agribusinesses - prime targets of aerial bombardments - are located there. The city of Khorramshahr and the world's largest oil refinery at Abadan were almost completely destroyed, while the city of Abadan itself sustained 50 per cent damage. Of the total damage to the province, approximately 40 per cent was associated with buildings and installations.

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