EghtesadOnline: The flawed urban development model adopted in Iran over the years has placed a majority of population in desert areas while nearly two-thirds of the world’s population—almost 3.6 billion people—live on or within 60 km of coastlines.
Since the emergence of ancient civilizations, people have always been attracted to coastal areas. Coastal cities with populations of more than five million, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, New York and Dubai, are key economic players of their respective countries.
Twenty of highly developed countries have economies based on sea and ocean.
Iran’s 890-kilometer coastlines along the Caspian Sea and around 4,900 kilometers along the Persian Gulf and Oman Sea only host eight million inhabitants, close to 10% of the country’s population—a population equal to that of the capital, Tehran, according to Financial Tribune.
Close to 700 kilometers of Makran coastal strip in southern Iran are inhabited by fewer than 500,000 people. On the other side of the Persian Gulf and Oman Sea, from Muscat to Dubai, more than five million people live on the coastline.
Makran is a semi-desert coastal strip stretched along southeastern Iran to Pakistan’s Balochistan and borders the coasts of Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman. It is home to the strategic port of Chabahar.
The Iranian part of Makran Coast, bordering two southern provinces of Hormozgan and Sistan-Baluchestan, has been earmarked as a prime location for development, as its location makes it ideal for becoming a commercial hub.
Singapore has a total land area of 719 km, which is smaller than the Iranian islands of Kish and Qeshm in the Persian Gulf, but its annual revenues exceed that of Iran’s total oil revenues.
These figures are enough to show Iran’s model of urban development is not based on development models adopted by prosperous economies for their cities to generate wealth.
The Iranian cities of Sarbaz, Iranshahr, Zabol and Shadegan, which are not far away from southern waters, are familiar names with high unemployment rates, regularly appearing in official reports. Coastal cities are among the most underprivileged parts of the country.
Nearly half of the 31 provinces are located along the borders and post dismal unemployment rates.
The findings of the latest National Population and Housing Census show that close to 8.6 million Iranian households—one-third of all Iranian households—are residents of border towns with the highest unemployment rates, particularly in southern provinces.
Iran took the wrong course for developing its cities by investing heavily in oil and gas industries in the southern province of Khuzestan and petrochemical industry in central provinces, the deputy head of Ports and Maritime Organization, Hadi Haqshenas, told the Persian daily Shahrvand.
“This is while advanced countries set up such industries along their coastlines to reduce their water and transportation costs. Our governments have been sidetracked by oil; they have been negligent about sea-driven economy. So much so that sales and export of raw materials constitute nearly 63.5% of non-oil exports. We are yet to escape the historical oil trap,” he said.
As water is an essential resource for the production of steel and because of Iran’s semi-arid climate, there are only a few ideal locations for setting up a steel plant in the country, which is near the sea.
However, many of the country’s main steel mills and even most of the proposed steel plant projects are located in central Iran, away from any major source of water.
As a result, Iranian steel mills presently consume over 169 million cubic meters of water per year.
As per the proposed expansion in the Vision Plan (2005-25), which targets domestic steel output to reach 55 million tons annually by 2025, the figure will nearly double and jump to 370 million per year.
According to Mining and Mineral Industries Commission of Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, close to $2.4 billion of investment are required to adequately supply all the country’s mills with the required water resources.
Change of Course Under Rouhani
Haqshenas believes the incumbent government has placed more importance on marine economy compared with its predecessors.
“Under President Hassan Rouhani, the capacity of Chabahar Port increased from 2.5 million tons to 8.5 million tons. His regular visits to southern provinces are a clear indication of his confidence in the development of ports and focus on replacing the oil-reliant economy with sea-based economy,” he added.
Chabahar, Iran’s only oceanic port, a coastal city and an ancient trading center, came into the limelight after years of oblivion following the Chabahar trilateral agreement negotiated by Rouhani’s government, India and Afghanistan.
It is Iran’s only port with direct access to the Indian Ocean and 800 km closer to Afghanistan than Pakistan’s Karachi Port.
President Rouhani inaugurated the first phase of Chabahar’s Shahid Beheshti Port early December.
The port is located in Sistan-Baluchistan Province that has an area of 187,500 sq km. It is one of the largest provinces of Iran, sharing a 1,600-km joint border with Pakistan and Afghanistan with a coastal boundary of around 300 km.