In Iran, COVID-19 is just an­other cri­sis to sur­vive

Na­tion al­ready faces many dis­as­ters, Na­hal Lotfi writes from Tehran.

Ottawa Citizen - - Opinion - Na­hal Lotfi, an as­pir­ing jour­nal­ism stu­dent from Tehran, is cur­rently study­ing English through The Bahá’í In­sti­tute for Higher Ed­u­ca­tion (BIHE).

You see videos of peo­ple in western coun­tries rush­ing to stores and panic-buy­ing, and hear news about them hol­ing up in their homes. But here in Tehran, peo­ple are go­ing on as usual, pay­ing lit­tle at­ten­tion to the fa­tal new­comer: COVID -19. It is said peo­ple buy to man­age their emo­tions; it’s about tak­ing back con­trol in a world where you feel you’ve lost con­trol. But the sad truth is that Ira­ni­ans lost con­trol over their lives long ago, so they hardly miss a beat when a fresh catas­tro­phe emerges.

Iran has had one of the high­est death rates from COVID -19 of any coun­try. If the num­ber of deaths were as high in any western coun­try, the pan­demic would have kept peo­ple at home. But for many Ira­ni­ans, the pan­demic is lit­tle more than an op­por­tu­nity for a holiday.

Some in­flu­encers on so­cial me­dia are try­ing hard to con­vince peo­ple to take the virus se­ri­ously and stay at home. De­spite all of their ef­forts, die-hard holiday-go­ers can be seen rush­ing to­ward Mazan­daran, a favourite desti­na­tion for do­mes­tic tourism. And with the big­gest Ira­nian holiday of the year, Naw

Ruz, or New Year’s, Ira­ni­ans, com­pletely obliv­i­ous to the dan­gers of travel, have been rush­ing home in droves to visit their families.

What makes Ira­ni­ans so seem­ingly in­dif­fer­ent to this deadly virus?

For Ira­ni­ans, COVID-19 is just an­other ob­sta­cle to over­come. Back-to-back dis­as­ters in Iran have thrown the pop­u­la­tion into a state of shock and res­ig­na­tion which, at least in part, has con­tributed to their pas­siv­ity in the face of the coro­n­avirus.

Start­ing two years ago, when the United States an­nounced its with­drawal from the Iran nu­clear deal, Iran has ex­pe­ri­enced se­vere eco­nomic hard­ship. And U.S. sanc­tions did not just im­pact the govern­ment: they af­fected the whole coun­try. Busi­ness, both large and small, were hit hard by this de­ci­sion and many peo­ple slid slowly into poverty.

With the rial los­ing its value day by day, it is dif­fi­cult for any­one in Iran to plan for the fu­ture. The high cost of get­ting mar­ried and es­tab­lish­ing a fam­ily is mak­ing it harder for young peo­ple to strike out on their own. And the rapid rise in the un­em­ploy­ment had caused many of them to lose hope for the fu­ture. Many young peo­ple in Iran have for­got­ten how to dream.

Even na­ture has not been kind in the past few years. From mid-March to April this past year, much of Iran was laid low by flash-flood­ing as 26 of the coun­try’s 31 prov­inces were del­uged by rain. And in sum­mer, peo­ple in the south of Iran in par­tic­u­lar must cope with wa­ter scarcity. More­over, peo­ple in the south and west are vic­tims of se­vere earth­quakes that have left their vil­lages dev­as­tated.

Given the on­slaught of dis­as­ters, it is nat­u­ral for Ira­nian to feel they have lost con­trol of their lives. From an un­sta­ble econ­omy to nat­u­ral dis­as­ters – Ira­ni­ans have been shell-shocked. For them, COVID-19 is just one more blow.

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