EghtesadOnline: A conference was held last week at the Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (ICCIMA) in Mashhad to discuss the root causes of rising water tensions, consequences and strategies to address the thorny problem.
ICCIMA says to address the chronic water problems policymakers should not only focus on the issue of virtual water and water resources and economics — that address the financial dimensions of water management— but also propose workable and improved farming methods, Tehran-based Persian-language economic newspaper Donya-e-Eqtesad reported.
Addressing the conference, Gholam Hossein Shafei, the ICCIMA chief said, "Water scarcity is largely a product of poor management of [underground] water resources and imprudent consumption.”
Should the current patterns continue, new economic, social and political problems will be inevitable, Financial Tribune quoted him as saying.
"Decision makers have often stressed the need and significance of proper management of water resources. But words are not enough to solve the crisis. Operational measures are the need of the day."
Shafei is of the opinion that water paucity is the most formidable challenge which will cripple future economic development plans.
Adopting wrong policies like low tariffs has exacerbated the problem by encouraging people to continue with high consumption and wasteful practices.
Per capita water use in metropolises, such as Tehran and Isfahan, exceeds 200 liters, whereas the global average is 150 liters.
The government pays 25,000 rials (25 cents) for delivering a cubic meter of water while consumers pay 10,000 rilas (10 cents). Compared to other countries, only Saudi Arabia (3 cents per cubic meter) and India (23 cents per cubic meter) charge their water consumers less than Iran. The amount is 29 cents, $1 and $2 in Vietnam, China and Brazil respectively.
Highlighting solutions, the ICCIMA official said water-intensive crops and fruits [such as rice and watermelon] should either not be farmed or be farmed proportional to water costs. In a water-scarce country like Iran, water should not be wasted on growing food products that can be imported with lower cost. When a country imports water-hogging crops instead of producing them, it is saving water. The procedure, referred to as virtual water trade, needs to be adapted sooner in Iran.
In addition, agricultural methods are in need of major rectification. Irrigation needs to be optimized and modern techniques should replace traditional methods. Introducing mechanized systems can help contain the crisis to some extent.
"Over-withdrawal of groundwater has endangered ground water aquifers. Ground water withdrawal, especially in prohibited plains must stop."
Iranian agriculture is far from economical. Water productivity for every cubic meter of water is 850 grams at most, while the international average is between 2-2.5 kilograms. Furthermore, every cubic meter of water used in agriculture creates less than 35 cents in added value while the international average is one dollar.
According to Mohammad Ala'ee, head of Khorasan Razavi Province Water Company, land subsidence caused by decline in the level of groundwater resources has been a growing phenomenon in the province and is expected to cause irreparable damage to the environment if not addressed.
"The land in Mashhad and Neyshabur plain (both in Khorasan Razavi Province) has subsided by 25 centimeters and 28 centimeters respectively that is beyond critical levels," he said, adding that the runway in Mashhad Airport is subsiding and the whole city is in danger.
"The problem has evolved over a long time and cannot be addressed overnight. We hope that short-term measures will help improve present conditions and prevent the expansion of land subsidence," he said without providing details.
The water official noted that people in Iran’s most important religious province have yet not recognized the scale and scope of the water crisis. More than 30 million pilgrims from in and outside Iran visit Mashhad, the provincial capital and major shrine city, every year.
Iran is largely an arid and water-scarce country. The amount of annual renewable water resources in the country is 1,600 cubic meters (nearly one fifth of the international average of 7,600 cubic meters).