Diaper Dilemma Grips Iranians As Economy, Currency Slide
Golnaz Esfandiari September 10, 2018
The times they are a changin'. But in Iran, families with infants are struggling to do the same.
Senior officials, industry executives, and young parents have been forced to confront a shortage of baby diapers.
"Diapers and immigration," a 36-year-old married man in Tehran, who asks to remain anonymous, says of the current buzz among colleagues.
He is married and says he considers himself lucky to be childless in light of the gloom that has descended on Iranians amid a 70-percent fall in the value of the national currency in the past year, soaring prices for basic goods and commodities, and quickly declining purchasing power.
'Missiles But No Diapers'
"I'm so glad I don't have kids when I hear my colleagues discussing the price of diapers and how difficult they are to find -- and that's on top of everything else we have to deal with," he says.
"It's ridiculous, we have a missile but we don't have diapers," he adds, punning on the Persian words for missile and diaper (mushak and pushak).
It's a jab at the country's political and economic leadership, which has described the expansion of missile capabilities for defense purposes as a top priority.
Meanwhile, the head of a manufacturing association warning that 10 factories that produce disposable diapers are on the verge of closure because of a shortage of raw materials.
"This is because of not receiving foreign currency" at the government's official exchange rate of 42,000 rials to the dollar, according to Seyed Hossein Dokmehchi, who was quoted by the semiofficial ILNA news agency. He added that the imported goods those companies need to make absorbent diapers are stuck at customs.
Replacing those locally made diapers with foreign-made ones is not an option for many Iranians, who are also chafing at high unemployment and what critics describe as endemic corruption.
The United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in early August following an announcement by U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal, squeezing Iran's economy and contributing to the ongoing currency crash. With a second round of U.S. sanctions targeting Iran's crude-oil exports due to come into force in November, many fear even tougher days ahead.
The policies discourage U.S. and foreign companies to stop doing business with Iran as a way to pressure Tehran into concessions in its decades-old disputes with the United States and its allies.
Even Iran's official broadcasters, which are frequently reluctant to show economic suffering, are sharing the plight of parents and people dependent on absorbent undergarments.
"Buying diapers has become a real concern," one man told state TV.
Another noted that "people can use cloth [diapers] for children, but what are they supposed to do about grown-ups [who need diapers]?"
Millions of women are reportedly also being affected as absorbent sanitary pads are getting difficult to find.
One woman shared video of depleted shelves at one shop.
Officials and observers say the currency crash has increased the price of imported goods and prompted hoarding by panicked citizens or just businessmen hoping to profit.
Tehran Claims 'Sabotage'
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has blamed much of the problem on foreign enemies whom he accuses of economic "sabotage" to create discontent in Iranian society.
"In some cases, it's not profiteering, it's sabotage," Khamenei said in a recent meeting with President Hassan Rohani and his cabinet. "For example, imagine all of a sudden in Tehran or other major cities, baby diapers become scarce -- this is happening, it's real."
"Baby diapers! People become angry. The enemy wants people to become angry with government and the establishment. That's one way," Khamenei said.
Iran's faltering economy has led to public discontent and anger that resulted in antiestablishment demonstrations in more than 80 cities and towns in late December and early January. They were followed by sporadic protests in late July and early August in about a dozen cities.
President Rohani's chief of staff has acknowledged the increased pressure that ordinary Iranians are facing and advised them to buy only the amount they need.
"On the other hand, we ask business owners and tradesmen to be more fair in setting prices," Mahmud Vaezi was quoted as telling reporters after a cabinet meeting on September 5. "We expect our people and also our business owners to take each other into consideration so that we can pass through these very difficult times together."
Two Iranian lawmakers recently pointed the finger at state policies and urged that Iranians be given a greater say in their country's affairs.
"People's lives are getting harder and harder," lawmaker Gholamreza Heydari told her fellow lawmakers in parliament earlier this month. "Unfortunately, the Islamic republic has faced the world with a negative view since the beginning of the  revolution. This negative view has caused tensions both in internal and external relations."
Another member of parliament, Parvaneh Salahshuri, said that, while the rial is now among "the world's most worthless currencies," Iranians are also struggling with other issues that include corruption, hoarding, poverty, prostitution, and a lack of freedoms that results in the arrest of activists "on a daily basis."
She offered a list of solutions that included a return of "military bodies to the barracks" instead of interference in politics and the economy.
Thousands of people were said to have been detained by security forces in the street unrest and other protests since December.
Salahshuri also called for the release of political prisoners, including opposition figures that have been under house arrest since 2011, freedom of the press, and friendly ties with other countries.
Both lawmakers were criticized by hard-liners, with one conservative parliamentarian suggesting they had receiving their talking points from the country's enemies.
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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