19 JUNE 1947, Page 8



ALTHOUGH Iran—it still sounds more familiar to us as Persia— was a few months ago much in the public eye, attention was centred mainly on its political strains and stresses. But at least equally important from another point of view is the question of its social conditions, and what life means to the nine-tenths of its population who live on the land and to the comparatively small number of workers in the towns. Iran has, it is true, some wealthy men—big landlords, mostly absentees, and a certain number of in- dustrialists whom the war has enriched. This small rich class seems to be entirely separate from, and to have little sense of responsibility for, the mass of the population, who are still to a great extent poverty- stricken and diseased. The middle-class, also very small; which consists mainly of officials in the service of the Government, in banks and other business offices, has emerged only quite recently.

The only industry of any size is the oil industry, situated in a few towns in the south. There are a few textile mills at Isfahan and elsewhere. Apart from Teheran, with its population of 75o,000, there are only seven cities with over tow= people, and under seven with populations of between 5o,000 and too,000. Among the people in the countryside nomad tribes constitute about one-third. They still form an important element in the south and on the Baluchistan border. In the south they winter in the lowlands, some of the men going to work for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in Abadan. But when spring and summer come they wander, as in Biblical times, with their flocks and herds up to the cool high places where grazing is good. They still live in the black goat-hair tents of song and poetry, open in from and shared with the animals. The few who winter in towns often live in one-roomed huts pitched on waste spaces and with no sanitation or water-supply of any kind.

The majority of country-dwellers, however, are settled smallholders and agricultural workers, who live for the most part in villages of baked mud-huts of a kind already familiar in Persepolis and other cities of ancient times. Little advance semis to have been made since those periods in houses or household equipment, while the standard of living is probably lower. Some of the huts are just one-room dwellings with no furniture and a few straw mats on the floor. The better-off peasants have a homestead enclosed by a wall, which contains a stable for the sheep and goats and for an occasional cow, and a sleeping-hut with an alcove in which the hand-spun and hand-woven rugs and quilts are kept during the day. Sometimes in the mountains, where the dwellings are made of stone, there are two stories—the bottom room being in the nature of a vault which keeps cool in the hottest summer. An outdoor oven with a domed top is used for baking the flat, unleavened Persian bread. Not only has no progress been made with domestic architecture, but the woollen rugs that the more prosperous houses have on their floors are made from wool spun, not on a spinning-wheel, but on spindles identical with those which have been unearthed from tombs 5,000 years old.

In most parts Of the country no rent is paid, but a proportion of the crops, varying according to the amount of capital, tools and animals supplied by the landlord, is claimed by him. This may amount to anything from 20 per cent to 8o or 90 per cent. Agricul- tural production is very meagre, and the land available for cultiva- tion is small—only land within reach of the few riven or mountain streams and the irrigation system based on them. It must be rea- lised that the greeter part of Persian territory is either rocky moun- tain or desert or land which,, while not actually desert, is continually short of water. The irrigation system used is mostly one going back to time immemorial, quanats or tunnels conveying water from under- ground springs a distance of several miles. In addition to lack of water, methods of agriculture and equipment are still extremely primitive. Small wooden ploughs, more like sticks than blades in shape, are dragged by oxen. The wheat is gathered with a sickle, and winnowed on a threshing-floor. It is unlikely that much can be done to improve the position of the peasant until schemes of modern irrigation requiring many millions in capital are carried out. Here is a chance for an international loan ; but there seems little sign of it at present. Even a piped water-supply for Teheran itself has only just been decided on.

The result of the low standard of living is that the people are poorly clothed and pernianently under-nourished, living mainly on unleavened bread and on cucumbers and dates in their season. There are almost no social services. Disease is rife. The infant death-rate is said everywhere in Iran to be something in the realm of 800 a thousand (while our own is forty-three), though this must be an exaggeration. But even the report of the official Middle East Supply Organisation guesses it to be about 500 a thousand. This, together with that of Iraq, is higher than any other known infant death-rate in the world. Adults also suffer from many debilitating diseases, including syphilis, smallpox and typhus. In addition, there is an immensely high incidence of eye-disease, especially trachoma. I was informed that among children it is not much less than too per cent. If not treated, which is usually the case, it often leads to blindness. Where it is treated with daily injections of silver nitrate, as in a few nursery schools started by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in Abadan, a cure can be effected in two or three years.

There is no doubt, therefore, that the development of health ser- vices is an imperative need. How is it to be done? There are about 1,700 doctors in Iran, but about I,000 of these practise in Teheran. Life in the villages is dull, poor and unproductive to the qualified young doctor, and he thus refuses to go there or to the small towns. The same applies to the midwife or nurse. Nurses' work is compli- cated by the refusal of Mahommedan families to allow their daughters to live away from home. Two very interesting experiments have, however, been initiated by the Ministry of Health at Shiraz, which may bring about a better state of affairs. Corresponding rather to our Emergency Training Colleges for teachers, a four-year course for doctors (or rather "health officers ") and a two-year course for nurse midwives have been instituted. Doctors will be sent to the villages to run health centres and to give education in hygiene. The fifty girls in the midwives' training school are all drawn from the villages, and will,.it is hoped, return there, living in their own homes. One thing which would do more than anything else to improve the health of Iranian children would be a system of health visitors going into every house and giving the education and stimulus every mother requires. Even then, the task would be Herculean. Ai always with uneducated people, custom and tradition hold sway. The swaddling- band and unsuitable feeding are part and parcel of the accepted way of life. The Mahommedan in his fatalism puts down illness to the will of God, which it is not for him to contravene. Nevertheless, in a handful of the villages the beginnings of health work have been established.

With regard to education, although there is a well-attended univer- sity in Teheran, and some secondary schools for both boys and girls in most of the big towns, compulsory primary education is still far away. There are many villages with no schools at all—and where there are schools they are mainly for boys who attend for a couple of years only and finish when they are ten. In the secondary schools the education is mainly based on the French system of a few decades ago. It is very academic and bookish in character, and thus not calculated to develop initiative or a sense of responsibility.

What of the future? That will inevitably depend on the quality of the Government and on the initiative of the few educated people. If stability of administration can be substituted for the kaleidoscopic changes of Government, if the successive Ministers mainly respon- sible for health and education show enterprise, if governmental cor- ruption can be combated, and if voluntary organisations dealing with health and education can be encouraged, above all if capital can be provided for the increase of water-supplies, conditions of life in Iran should be immensely improved. But unless all these developments do take place, the lot of the average person will continue to be unhappy. What chance is there that they will?