EghtesadOnline: Developing infrastructures to divert water from locations where it is abundant to locations facing a shortage is an unsustainable supply-oriented management policy and can do very little to ease the growing water crisis, an Iranian professor at the Concordia University, Quebec, Canada, said.
“Water diversion schemes are ill-conceived, as they not only don’t help fight drought but they also raise consumption and encourage the locals in dry regions to expand water-intensive industries and continue their inefficient farming practices,” Ali Nazemi also told ILNA.
No matter how much water is desalinated, or can be transferred from the Persian Gulf to arid areas in Yazd and Kerman provinces, as long as water demand is not managed efficiently, other strategies on the supply side, including inter-basin transfer to far-flung regions, will not yield the desired result, he added.
Nazemi noted that in addition to harming the ecosystem, the transfer of water would raise unrealistic hope among farmers and industry owners, and discourage them from rethinking their unsustainable and wasteful practices.
“Supply-side management policies such as drilling deep and ultra-deep wells, desalination and regional water transfers, whether inter- or intra-basin, should be replaced with demand-oriented management plans, including various types of water quotas, water pricing schemes, incentives for adopting water-efficient technologies and treating wastewater for use in agriculture or for aquifer recharge,” he said.
“Raising public awareness, promoting wise consumption patterns, recycling wastewater, collecting and reusing groundwater, updating traditional irrigation and farming practices should be given higher priority.”
The professor added that inter-basin transfer to far-flung regions will compromise the above-mentioned approaches tried and tested globally to fight water shortage.
What really amazes experts and academicians like Nazemi is why governments are willing to invest colossal amounts on seawater transfers but do nothing to educate their people and increase access to modern water conservation technologies.
“Digging deep wells in drought-hit plains of central Iran is another wrong tactic that will only offer a temporary solution and has already led to catastrophic consequences like salinization of soil, destruction of wildlife habitats and land subsidence,” he said.
Clearly, water supply in many parts of the country lags behind demand and the actual use by agriculture and industries. The substantial reduction (including deterioration in water quality) in renewable water resources over time and the rise in water-intensive economic activities like food production and improvement of standards of living have led to a widening gap between the water volumes supplied and demanded.
According to Mohammad Darvish, an environmentalist and director of Public Participation Office at the Department of Environment, Iran is among very few countries trying to tackle water paucity by building a pipeline stretching over a long distance while other alternatives have been overlooked.
“We haven’t systematically explored other options, including recycling wastewater. In some countries, they treat water up to 18 times for irrigation,” Darvish said, adding that the current method of irrigation produces up to 35 billion cubic meters of wastewater, which offer an opportunity for recycling.
To put things into perspective, Darvish, who is an expert on desertification, said the agriculture sector gobbles up more than 90% of Iran’s scarce water resources, while the average Iranian uses 250 liters of water per day.
“So, instead of spending money on setting up plants to recycle and conserve water, we’re willing to inject billions of dollars into water transfer projects that will give rise to numerous problems,” he said.
The next solution proposed by Darvish is overhauling farming policies, especially those pertaining to the volume of food produced.
“Around 30% of our crops, which use 27 billion cubic meters of water, are wasted because they never reach their intended consumers – that’s six times the global average,” he said.
However, the problem cannot be blamed on farmers alone.
“It’s got a lot to do with how the crops are packaged and transported; a lot of food is spoilt during this process. We need to revamp the entire system. It’ll be money well spent,” he said.
Darvish believes large sums of money used to transfer water to dry regions, such as Semnan, Kerman and Yazd, to support water-intensive industries would be better spent on developing ecotourism and other green projects in drought-stricken provinces.
“If properly planned and executed, ecotourism will have a minimal impact on water resources and help develop local economies,” he said.
Taking stock of Iran’s diverse natural landscapes that can appeal to different tastes, the official said developing ecotourism will also help Iran take a step toward “achieving its sustainable development goals and reducing environmental harm”.