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Tehran’s smog problem unlikely to clear up anytime soon

Both as public servants, a father and daughter have sought to address Tehran's air pollution for decades, but Iran's highly politicized environmental crisis is a tangled issue.

Taghi Ebtekar, a lecturer at the University of Tehran and head of the Environmental Protection Organization of Iran from 1980 to 1981, was among the first academics to address the problem of Tehran’s air pollution back in the 1970s. His daughter, Masoumeh Ebtekar, the current head of Iran's Environmental Protection Organization, is continuing his struggle — but with no signs of success in the near future. While the elder Ebtekar consulted with the mayor of Tehran in 1975 to persuade him to recognize the significance of air pollution for the health and well-being of citizens, the younger Ebtekar may lose her career over the urgency of this issue, which causes the deaths of thousands of Iranians every year.

The issue of air pollution was first addressed in the Statute for Preventing Air Pollution in July 1975. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution and during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988, the issue was not taken seriously, as it was overshadowed by arguably more pressing priorities. In 2001, the 10-year Comprehensive Program to Decrease Air Pollution in Tehran (CPDAPT) passed. CPDAPT focused on improving environmental standards in Iran’s auto industry, the renovation of the aging vehicles on the streets, increasing access to public transportation, upgrading the quality of fuel and executing compulsory safety and environmental inspections of vehicles. In 2005, the Comprehensive Plan for Transportation and Traffic of Tehran (CPTTT) was introduced, with a special focus on decreasing air pollution. The CPTTT included initiatives such as increasing the green belt around main roads, the development of more pedestrian pathways in the business districts of Tehran, the introduction of hybrid taxis and the levying of new council taxes on low-standard vehicles. Some 11 years after the introduction and partial execution of the CPTTT and other initiatives, air pollution still kills thousands of people in Tehran annually. If anything, things have never been as bad as they’ve been this winter. So what is standing in the way of a more effective solution to this pressing problem?

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