The rising menace of Coronavirus has spread its tentacles all around the globe with the death toll from pandemic reaching the 6,400 mark as of Sunday and the total number of cases rising to more than 150,000. The infection continues to prompt countries to take unprecedented measures to help stave off a global health crisis.
The west-Asian country of Iran is one of the worst-hit countries outside mainland China. Amidst the burden of economic sanctions levied by the US for the last two years and a crumbling health care setup, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has reached out to Indian PM for help in a letter. President Rouhani has pleaded before PM Modi to steer his country through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Iran has emerged as the epicentre of the outbreak in the Middle East. According to Iranian authorities, the death toll has risen to 611 amid 12,792 cases with the highest number of infected cases among government figures, including at least seven top officials who have lost their lives.
The country is facing “massive” shortages of medical supplies, including face masks, as it struggles to deal with the spread of the disease. Meanwhile, India has been up to the task from the starting, with the closing of the borders to segregating the patients and treating them in camps spread across the country, the government has been ahead of the curve than most western countries.
President Rouhani, in his letter, emphasized that the fight against the coronavirus requires bolstering joint and coordinated regional and international measures, adopting serious strategies, and sustaining huge medical and care costs.
Even though Iran has been nasty to India on Kashmir/CAA and as recent as the Delhi riots with its unwanted criticism, it is in the humanitarian cause that India should step up and help the Iran in these dire times. The government of India has sent medical teams to the Maldives in the wake of epidemic. India has already given a laboratory to Iran when it evacuated its citizens from the country. PM Modi led government should amp up its measures to its erstwhile oil-exporters or at least mediate for a temporary lift on US-backed sanctions while Iran overcomes the epidemic.
Iran’s sudden outburst against India was purely an economic one as in the current fiscal (FY20), India’s oil imports from Iran have dipped to 1.97 mt down from 23.9 mt in FY19. Simultaneously, India exported $234 million of goods to Iran, establishing a seven-fold trade surplus.
But the main reason Iran is tottering in its fight against Coronavirus is because of the US sanctions of President Donald Trump. Tensions between Washington and Tehran reached a tipping point in January when Trump ordered the assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. The death of Soleimani further plunged the country into a deep administration crisis. Iran tried to retaliate with a missile strike on an Iraqi military base housing US troops that left more than 100 American personnel with brain injuries.
But the US sanctions that curb oil and gas exports crucial for government revenues has completely battered the country. A slowdown in economic activity caused by the virus outbreak and sustained closure of its borders are expected to lead to a contraction this year. While the Chabahar port was given a waiver from the US sanctions, there is a very limited function of the port and does not economically benefit Iran enough to revive its economy.
With Saudi Arabia lowering its crude oil prices to a lowly $34 per barrel, Iran’s only refuge amid sanctions was oil, but with such competitive pricing, Iran may not be able to stand on its feet in the oil market for long.
In such a precarious situation, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced that he had sent out a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, asking the international community to “disregard inhuman US sanctions”.
The condition of Iran is grim and it can be gauged from the fact that it has asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for $5 billion in emergency funding, the first instance it has applied for a loan from IMF after 1962. Despite being an oil-rich country, Iran’s financial reserves have taken a nosedive courtesy the sanctions.
The sanctions or as Iran has repeatedly termed it as ‘economic warfare’ has punctured the economy. In the wake of unprecedented crisis, Iran has also decided to halt work on the expansion of its Abadan oil refinery until mid-April
Some might say that this is the time to put Iran under the pump albeit the final nail on the head for the Islamist Iranian regime– but a global epidemic like COVID-19 waits for none while it kills innocents.
‘Stop massacre of Muslims,’ the reason for Iran’s newfound hostility against India is more economic than emotional
Putting forward clauses like change of regime or asking Iran to give up its nuclear program deal in the face of a catastrophe would not be an ideal thing to do and even if the US tries to go through with it, the process will take far too long. And the only luxury we as a global community do not have right now is ‘Time’. Therefore, Iran must be extended help by the west. Humanity triumphs any war or pandemic.