EghtesadOnline: In his first overseas trip as Iran's energy minister, Reza Ardakanian discussed regional water challenges and explored economic and agricultural opportunities in separate meetings in Turkey and Tajikistan this week.
Ardakanian on Thursday attended the First Water Council meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul, Turkey, joining the ranks of ministers and top officials from 10 other nations for talks on climate change and risks facing water resources, the Energy Ministry's news portal reported.
According to reports, the OIC Water Council approved a plan of action to expand research activities, formulate and implement water policies and carry out water infrastructure projects across the member countries.
Ardakanian, who boasts a strong background in the water sector, hoped the meeting would be a stepping stone to "find a suitable solution" to tackle water challenges in OIC member states, Financial Tribune reported.
The water summit in Istanbul came on the heels of the 12th session of Iran-Tajikistan Economic Commission that was co-chaired by Ardakanian in Dushanbe earlier this week, in which the two sides discussed challenges and opportunities in water and energy sectors.
In a meeting with Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon, Ardakanian discussed the idea of using tracts of land in Tajikistan for cultivating crops to be imported back to Iran.
"Considering Tajikistan's abundant water resources, we are hoping to use the capacity for cultivation," the minister was quoted as saying by the Energy Ministry.
Buying up farm fields abroad has been an increasingly prevalent practice, especially among the rich Arab nations, that seek to secure food supply outside their own torrid and barren lands.
For instance, Saudi investors–both state and private–have gone on a global shopping spree in recent years, spending billions of dollars buying up or leasing large tracts of land around the world, according to Land Portal, a global reference point for land related information.
Gripped by low rainfall, persistent drought and dwindling water resources, Iran is facing a severe shortage of water with its agriculture sector suffering due to outdated cultivation and irrigation methods that require unacceptably huge amounts of water.
Official data show that more than 90% of Iran's water resources are used in agriculture sector with a mere 30% efficiency, which pales in comparison to the global average of 75%.
--- Wastewater Plans
Ardakanian has underlined recycling wastewater for agricultural purposes as a key part of his vision to steer Iran's water sector out of the crisis.
"Over 20 million hectares (200 billion square meters) of agricultural land in 85 countries are irrigated by wastewater," he said before being voted in as energy minister last month.
"Plans are in place to expand the use of wastewater in agriculture in a joint effort with help from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and World Health Organization."
Water experts agree that upgrading irrigation systems will have a profound impact on the country’s water resources, insisting that it will help avert a disaster that could otherwise lead to the displacement of more than 50 million people.
Ardakanian also met with Tajikistan's Minister of Energy and Water Resources Usmonali Usmonzoda who stressed on collaborating in energy projects and efforts to reach "energy independence".
"The construction of Sangtoudeh-II hydroelectric dam by Iran is in line with fulfilling mutual goals," Usmonzoda said.
With a power production capacity of 220 megawatts, Sangtoudeh-II Dam has been developed by Iranian contractors at the Vakhsh River west of Tajikistan.