EghtesadOnline: Iran has been struggling with water shortage for so long that those in their early twenties do not recall a time when the country did not suffer from the scarcity of this precious resource.
Slowly but surely, rural residents have been abandoning their homes and desiccated farms and migrating to big cities in search of better opportunities, putting metropolises such as Tehran and Isfahan under severe pressure.
Whereas experts do not shy away from calling Iran’s dire water situation a crisis, officials avoid using that word to describe the country’s predicament. They fear it may adversely reflect on their competence.
“We’re not headed for a crisis; we’re in the middle of it,” says Mohammad Hossein Karimipour, a social scientist and expert on the impacts of water crisis on societies.
Speaking to the Persian daily Shahrvand, he said Iran’s environmental problems, if left unaddressed, will have dire consequences.
Karimipour, who is also a senior consultant at the Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, pointed to the imperiled Urmia Lake in northwestern Iran, which has shrunk to about 5% of its size more than two decades ago.
“While efforts to revive the lake are slowly paying off, the water level is extremely low and nowhere near what may be considered safe,” he said.
A billion-ton super salt bomb, the lake’s desiccation will have repercussions that can extend as far south as Kurdestan Province and will impact regional countries, namely Azerbaijan and Turkey, according to Financial Tribune.
“It can displace 50 million people across three countries,” he warned.
No Water Diplomacy
Excessive water consumption and years of mismanagement are the main causes of Iran’s water woes. However, Iran’s failure to protect its water resources is only partially responsible for the environmental problems that have befallen the country.
Water policies of regional countries—particularly Turkey—have compounded Iran’s struggle with dust and sandstorms, which have increased in both frequency and intensity in the past 15 years.
One of the main sources of sand storms is Iraq where the flow of rivers has decreased because of the race for dam constructions in upstream countries, i.e. Turkey.
Since 1975, Turkey’s extensive dam and hydropower construction projects have reportedly reduced water flows into Iraq and Syria by approximately 80% and 40% respectively, according to independent Australian research institute, Future Directions International.
“Wetlands and rivers have dried up, becoming hotspots for dust storms, all due to Turkey’s complete disregard for the water rights of Iraq and Syria,” Karimipour said.
Across the country in the southeast, Afghanistan is failing to stick by the treaties and memoranda of understanding it has signed with Iran to uphold the water rights of the Hamouns, a transboundary wetland made up of three lakes shared by Iran and Afghanistan.
“The phrase ‘water diplomacy’ does not exist in the vocabulary of our officials,” he said.
Root of the Problem
As with most things, the main cause of Iran’s struggle with a severe lack of water is mismanagement.
“We’ve never had an established strategy or a comprehensive plan to deal with the problem,” Karimipour told the newspaper, adding that “even when we did, we never stuck to it”.
The expert pointed to the Fourth Five-Year Economic Development Plan (2005-09), which called for reducing the country’s water consumption by 25%.
“Not only did we fail to hit the mark, we also ended up using 64% more water in those five years,” he said.
Karimipour criticized water authorities pursuing failed policies “parrot-fashion”, without looking into why these policies have failed time and again.
“What’s worse, nobody at the top is removed from their position for their failed policies. If the policies work, great; and if not, oh, well!”