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Iranian press review: Air pollution 'kills more' than Covid-19 in Tehran

Elsewhere, a conservative politician says atomic bomb best response to US sanctions, three workers die of suffocation in Abhar, and newspaper demands end to sanctions
An Iranian woman looks towards Tehran from the Saad Abad mountain north of the Iranian capital as smog engulfs the city on 13 January 2021 (AFP)

Air pollution deadlier than Covid-19

Iran's interior minister announced that air pollution in Tehran annually claims over 5,000 lives, a rate "much higher" than deaths related to Covid-19 and traffic accidents, the Ebtekar daily reported.

Every year, from mid-October until mid-March, a thick layer of smog covers Tehran's skyline.

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This year, however, the air pollution level has dramatically increased in Tehran since the beginning of autumn. The capital's air quality was classified as "unhealthy" for four days during the first week of autumn, ISNA news agency reported.

In previous years, the pollution, caused by the burning of fuel oil at Tehran's power plants and the use of low-quality petrol in outdated vehicles, has forced the authorities to close down schools in the capital.

Meanwhile, Zohreh Elahian, a conservative lawmaker, recently claimed that motorbikes cause 30 percent of the air pollution in Tehran, without providing sources to back her claim. 

In recent years, other large Iranian cities such as Isfahan, Mashhad and Tabriz have also faced an environmental crisis due to increasing air pollution.

According to official data, over 40,000 persons die in large Iranian cities every year due to air pollution, and the environmental crisis has caused as much as $2.6bn in financial damage in Tehran.

Nuclear bomb 'best response' to sanctions

A former lawmaker with ties to conservative political circles in Iran has suggested that the only solution for the establishment to remove the US sanctions is to develop a nuclear bomb.

Ahmad Bakhshayesh Ardestani, in an interview with the Iranian Diplomacy website, stressed that Tehran has no choice but to develop an atomic bomb to end its domestic and international crises.

"Iran cannot solve its diplomatic, security and political issues until the time it makes a nuclear bomb," he was quoted as saying.

"No matter if [Joe] Biden or any other person is the US president, these challenges will not end for Iran. As we see now, one year after Biden took office, this problem has not been solved yet."

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Ardestani claimed that developing a nuclear bomb would increase Iran's deterrence power and boost national unity.

"[Even] without having a nuclear bomb, we are slapped with sanctions worse than what North Korea is under. So while we suffer all these economic pressures, why should we not, at least, have the bomb?" he asked.

"Having an atomic bomb might not solve our economic issues, but at least would provide us with security, military and defence deterrence power, and would put an end to the West's avarice toward Iran."

This is not the first time conservative politicians have urged the government to increase its nuclear activities.

Former president Hassan Rouhani faced some of the most severe pressure from the hardline bloc in Iran to leave the 2015 nuclear deal and increase nuclear capabilities after the 2018 US unilateral withdrawal from the accord.

Three factory workers die of suffocation

Three workers died of suffocation and four others were injured at the Alborz Nab Arash steelworks factory in the city of Abhar, amidst lack of laws protecting workers.

According to the ILNA news agency, which covers news related to Iranian workers, the incident took place when a site manager ordered a newly employed worker to climb into an iron ore pellet container to take out a shovel that had fallen inside.

'When employers' profit is more important than the lives of workers, witnessing these incidents is not surprising'

- ILNA news agency

The worker started suffocating after going into the tank without any security gear, but when two coworkers attempted to rescue him, they got trapped inside the container. All three died from breathing nitrogen gas. 

According to ILNA, another four labourers were injured during the operation to extract the dead bodies of the workers. The accident came two weeks after a report warned about the rising number of work-related deaths in Iran. 

Following the increase in deaths among labourers in Iran, worker activists are urging the government to hold employers to account and pass binding laws to protect workers.

"The death of workers in Alborz Nab Arash factory reminded us how unvalued are the lives of labourers, and how catastrophic it is that their deaths have become a normality," ILNA wrote after the incident.

"When employers' profit is more important than the lives of workers, witnessing these incidents is not surprising," ILNA concluded.

Iran has a high rate of work-related accidents due to a lack of regulations that control workplace hazards and protect the rights of workers.

Answers demanded on sanctions

After four months of delay in restarting talks between Iran and world powers on the return to the nuclear deal, a pro-reformist daily led its front page with the headline: "The public's unanswered question: When will the sanctions be removed?"

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Aftab daily accompanied the article on Sunday with a cartoon depicting bombs labelled "inflation", "rent", "food", "clothes", and "bills" raining down on a person holding a small umbrella tagged as "income". 

The daily urged President Ebrahim Raisi to give the public a clear answer on when the lengthy negotiations would bear fruit and halt the international embargo on Iran's economy.

"These days, he is all over the place," the daily wrote, referring to Raisi. "He goes on provincial visits, saying slogan after slogan, but the people's unanswered question is still what it was: when will the sanctions be removed?"

The daily said that since Raisi took office in August, food prices have increased, the devaluation of the currency has continued, and inflation has risen.

Aftab also praised Raisi's attempts to solve the problems of ordinary people in underprivileged provinces such as Khuzestan and Sistan, but added: "[Nevertheless,] it is necessary to find an answer for the question: when will the sanctions be removed, even if the answer is: never."

*Iranian press review is a digest of news reports not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.