Sanctioning Iran: The Human Impact

The Wall Street Journal recently published an excellent article, detailing the current impact of sanctions on Iran. The coordinated effort by the US and the EU now essentially resembles a “complete trade embargo” on the country, with damaging economic consequences permeating all segments of society, reports the paper. For the first time, Iran’s oil minister, Rostam Qasemi, has acknowledged their effect, indicating that oil exports and sales are down 40 percent. Total oil production significantly decreased over the past year, too, falling from 2.4 million barrels per day in 2011 to 1 million barrels per day in 2012 (NYT).

While the West pushes forward with tougher measures, and Iranian leadership steadfastly continues its nuclear research track, it’s Iran’s civilian population that suffers most. According to the Financial Times, one consequence of the rial’s rapid devaluation and growing unemployment is the rise in crime, primarily street robberies and assaults. Judiciary chief, Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli-Larijani, emphasized that “people’s security is more essential than bread,” and therefore encouraged new policing strategies for combating such threats.

Perhaps an even lesser-known consequence of sanctions is their impact on public health. Last month, Reuters reported that a combination of sanctions and “government mismanagement” created a severe medicine shortage; as a result, doctors, medical institutions and pharmacists publicly condemned the West. In a letter to UN General Ban Ki-Moon, Dr. Alireza Marandi, of Iran’s Academy of Medical Sciences, expressed frustration, writing, “These brutal measures have… led to a significant rise in suffering as well as increased mortality rates.”

This issue also earned attention here in the US, prompting one young Iranian art student, currently studying in Chicago, to stage a protest near the UN headquarters in New York. During her demonstration, Sanaz Sohrabi “sat silently before thousands of pill capsules filled with strips of paper telling the stories of 40 Iranians who say they have not been able to attain medicine or medical help as a result of the sanctions.”

Although US Treasury officials attempt to counter messages and cast the Iranian regime as the guilty culprit, their statements fail to gain traction. Undoubtedly, many Iranians equate strains on access to healthcare with the same sanctions that drove up commodity prices and unemployment, ultimately leading to an overall decline in the quality of life. Here, perceptions are key – and the West would do well to recognize the broader human impact of its policies and craft strategies which, at a minimum, preserve the civilian population’s access to medical treatment.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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