A crocodile attack on a 7-year-old boy has refocused attention on the plight of villages in Iran’s southeastern Sistan and Baluchistan Province that lack running water. Residents say their children have no option but to fetch water from lakes and rivers, exposing them to the dangers of drowning and attacks by a species of marsh crocodile known locally as “gandos”.
On Aug. 11, a 7-year-old boy named Amirhamzeh from the village of Houttag was attacked by a crocodile as he was fetching water for his family. His parents sent him to neighboring Pakistan for treatment, but the doctors were forced to amputate his left hand.
While Iran does not publish statistics of crocodile attacks, locals say they are a regular occurrence. Last year a 9-year-old girl lost her arm in a crocodile attack, and an 8-year-old boy lost a leg.
Sistan and Baluchistan is one of the most underdeveloped provinces of Iran, a poor region that shares 1100 km of border with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many of the arid province’s villages are not connected to the country’s water system and depend on nearby lakes and rivers as their only source of water – a source they share with Gandos, a species of marsh crocodile found only in southeastern Iran, Pakistan, and India.
Amirhamzeh, 7 years old who lost his left arm after a crocodile attack on August 11.
According to local officials, a study of one county, Chabahar, showed that only 19 percent of its villages were connected to the water pipe system, despite pledges for at least six years to bring running water to the entire province.
In 2020 people rightfully expect water pipe in their village
Ziba [not her real name] is a social activist in Sistan and Baluchistan who focuses on rural poverty and travels regularly to the province’s villages.
There’s nothing new about gandos attacking humans in our region. It’s thanks to social media that people all over Iran know about it now. Until a few years ago many Iranians didn’t even know we have crocodiles in Iran! The situation has gotten worse in recent years, though, because of the severe drought in our region. Humans and gandos have to compete for sources of water that are becoming more and more scarce – and that results in more attacks.
Women and children in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan province collect water from a “houtak,” a small lake they depend for their everyday consumption of water. The user lists the name of children who have drowned while collecting water in recent years.
“People respect the gandos “
“Gandos are harmless during most of the year. They normally do not attack humans, but they become aggressive during the summertime. That’s when attacks happen – I can’t remember a single attack that occurred in winter. In the hot season, water levels are lower, and that makes the gandos aggressive. Summer is also their mating season.
Despite their attacks on humans – including children – people here love and respect the gandos. It’s not the crocodiles’ fault. We live in 2020, and people should have the right to have a pipe with running water in their village. I’m not even talking about treated water. A simple pipe from a local lake or one of the two dams in the region would allow give a village a safe source of water, but the authorities don’t care apparently. We just have a few tanker trucks that bring water to the villages. It’s not enough.”
A satellite image from the south of Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan province shows dozens of “houtak,” small lakes that are often near or inside villages. These lakes – the main source of water for the locals – are also a habitat for crocodiles known as “gandos.”
“Some people say, “Why get water from a lake if you know it’s dangerous?” That’s because they have no idea about the reality on the ground. Not going to the lake means not drinking and not washing. How can they go without drinking and washing? And gandos move around a lot, so you never know where they are. You could be in a high-risk zone or not.”
Villagers in Sistan and Baluchistan posted this photo of a marsh crocodile they have dubbed “Rostam”, after a legendary hero in Persian mythology, because of his huge size.
“Some locals say the government should put fences around the lakes to minimize the risk of attacks. But I’m not sure it’s a good solution: gandos need to get out of the water sometimes, so fences could destroy their habitat.
Another problem is the lack of medical facilities in the villages. With the kind of injuries that crocodiles cause, saving a child’s arm or leg from amputation can require medical attention within minutes. But the victims sometimes need to drive for hours to reach a properly equipped medical center, even going outside the province.”