EghetsadOnline: Engaging in political dialogues and pursuing a robust water diplomacy at the regional and international level top the Energy Ministry’s agenda to handle issues related to shared water resources with neighbors.
Mohammad Javanbakht, a deputy manager in the National Water and Wastewater Engineering Company of Iran (Abfa), made the statement in a meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry of Turkey Akif Ozkaldi, in Ankara on Thursday, IRNA reported.
“Abiding by the treaties and memoranda of understanding signed between Iran and Turkey is of outmost importance, as Tehran is tackling a severe drought unseen in half a century,” he said.
“Holding regular meetings can help address issues related to transboundary water resources, such as Sarisoo River, Aras River and Qarasoo River more effectively.”
The Abfa official noted that the two sides agreed to form a technical workgroup to come up with an integrated approach, based on legal frameworks and shared benefits and cost to manage cross-border water resources.
Referring to the fact that Aras River has long been a source of livelihood for border residents and is a symbol of peace and friendship for the two countries, Javanbakht asked Turkish officials to comply with agreements on shared water resources, as the failure to do so will worsen the mounting crisis in Iran, especially in northern provinces, namely Ardabil, East and West Azarbaijan.
Water officials, including Mehdi Qomshi, the head of the Water Affairs Faculty at Shahid Chamran University in Ahvaz, Khuzestan Province, believe that large-scale damming projects carried out by eastern and western neighboring states to control cross-border rivers have compounded Iran’s mounting water crisis.
According to the official, Turkey has launched dam construction initiatives on transboundary rivers without reaching an understanding with Iran, which has caused a substantial reduction of water level not only in Hour Al-Azim wetlands but also in Arvandroud river, both of which are located in the southwestern Khuzestan Province.
The official noted that experts had warned Iranian officials about the ongoing crisis in the 1990s, yet they turned a deaf ear to the warnings and made no efforts for finding novel solutions via water diplomacy.
Abbasqoli Jahani, a former member of World Water Council, says because of Iran’s ineffective water diplomacy in the past, Turkey and Afghanistan are not abiding by the treaties and memoranda of understanding they had signed with Iran.
“In an era of increasing water stress, how these critical resources are managed is vital to promoting peaceful cooperation and sustainable development,” he added.
According to Mohammad Hossein Papoli Yazdi, the head of the Iranian Association of Geopolitics, if Tehran had embarked on meaningful negotiations with Turkey 40 years ago, when it began building dams over the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the volume of water entering Iranian territory in Arvandroud (aka Shatt-al-Arab) in Khuzestan Province would have been twice the current volume.
Papoli said Iran should contribute to a peaceful solution to the water disputes with skillful diplomacy “that apparently does not exist in the vocabulary of our senior officials”.
An Energy Ministry department deals with cross-border rivers, but the official called for setting up a special office in the Foreign Ministry and sending “water envoys” to neighboring capitals.
Without indulging in tired clichés, he said “Iran is not heading toward a water crisis, but is drowning in it”.
Although most experts do not have any qualms about calling Iran’s dire water situation a worsening crisis, but water authorities try to avoid using the term.
They fear it could adversely reflect on their competency and management. As is the case with most economic sectors, mismanagement has largely made a bad water situation worse.
Officials have never had a strategy to tackle the water crisis. As per the Fourth Five-Year Economic Development Plan (2005-09), water consumption was planned to be cut by 25%. Not only did that not happen, consumption shot up 64% during the plan period.
Not long ago (when precipitation was high and population low), annual water consumption reached 40 billion cubic meters. Today, despite the fact that rainfall has decreased substantially, yearly water consumption is close to a prohibitive 100 bcm.
One wonders why Iranian water officials do not tire of parroting plans without looking deep into their recurring failures. A more thought- provoking question is why those responsible are not held accountable for their performance or the lack of it.