AFP: Fear, pollution and poverty stalk the Iranian industrial city of Pakdasht where the inhabitants have lost faith in successive governments and feel trapped in a hand-to-mouth existence. Just 50 kilometres (30 miles) outside the capital on the desert highway to Afghanistan, Pakdasht is choked with pollution from industrial plants and notorious as the site of some of the worst serial killings in Iran’s modern history. AFP
by Aresu Eqbali
PAKDASHT, Iran – Fear, pollution and poverty stalk the Iranian industrial city of Pakdasht where the inhabitants have lost faith in successive governments and feel trapped in a hand-to-mouth existence.
Just 50 kilometres (30 miles) outside the capital on the desert highway to Afghanistan, Pakdasht is choked with pollution from industrial plants and notorious as the site of some of the worst serial killings in Iran’s modern history.
During a recent and vicious spate of crime, two workers lured over 20 small boys to an abandoned quarry, where they abused and murdered them. The killings earned the pair the nicknames of the “Jackals” or “Desert Vampires.”
The ringleader was hanged earlier this year from a crane surrounded by crowds baying for revenge amid anger over the slowness of the police in bringing an end to the year-long murder spree.
“People don’t live here. They have to make do with just breathing,” said Abbas Salari, the local representative of Mehdi Karoubi, the moderate cleric standing as a candidate in Friday’s presidential elections.
Amid this situation, “people are worried by the authorities’ contempt for their conditions of life in the town,” said Mahmood Fereydouni, who leads the campaign for conservative candidate Ali Larijani.
Monthly salaries are said to start at 1.2 million rials (around 130 dollars).
“A jobless person in the province might find that is okay but if you take into account the cost of living it is not enough,” he said.
Abdollah Fahrhoudi, 32, digs out clay from 4:00 am in the morning to sundown to make 7,000 bricks a day, a labour that brings him a daily wage of between four and five dollars.
At night he sleeps on the floor in a cottage with other workers and is not interested in asking himself questions about the elections.
“In Tehran they have everything. Here we have been abandoned,” lamented Sharouz Soltani, 29, pointing to the dirty water flowing outside the houses.
Pakdasht was a victim of uncontrolled expansion during the 1980s and 1990s when it was deemed wise to take polluting industrial plants a safe distance away from the already overcrowded capital.
What was once a collection of villages was replaced by a city with 350,000 inhabitants from all over Iran, as well as illegal workers from Afghanistan who work for even lower wages.
As it expanded, the name of the town was changed from Palasht (dirty) to Pakdasht (clean desert) but the designation was not matched by progress in its social infrastructure.
According to Abbas Salari, the housing blocks would not be able to withstand an earthquake and the sewers are not large enough. There is no cinema, no park, no efficient bus or train link to Tehran.
The hospital, some 15 kilometres (10 miles) away, only has 50 beds and the most ill patients have to be evacuated to Tehran, said its director Abolghasem Afkhami Ardfallani.
“If the road is blocked, they die,” said Salari.
The road from Afghanistan brings in heroin, although there are also synthetic drugs. “Many workers here are taking drugs and selling them,” said Shadust Qadimi, 35, father of one of the serial killers’ victims.
He accused police of “arresting the dealers and then setting them free two blocks down the way.”
Qadimi said he will merely put a blank ballot paper into the polling box on Friday, just to get the stamp on his papers to prove he has performed his duty to the regime.
He worried about the future of his two surviving sons. “Will they be drug-addicts? Unemployed?”