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EghtesadOnline: The growing menace of soil erosion is more serious than water pollution, as soil plays a crucial life-support role that is often taken for granted, the chairman of the Technical Committee for Flood Evaluation and Dam Safety at the Iranian National Committee on Large Dams said.

“There are alternatives for water shortage or pollution, but the physical, chemical and biological decline in soil quality is an irreversible damage that is likely to jeopardize food security,” ILNA also quoted Mostafa Fadaeifard as saying.

Contaminated water can be purified in wastewater treatment plants, but as soon as soil quality declines and it diminishes the capacity to support animals and plants, nothing can be done, he added.

Despite the widespread use of fertilizers, the country's fertile soil is poor in terms of nutrients and its salinity is also on the rise.

The official noted that this indicates that the improper use of chemicals will not only make it unsustainable, but will also speed up soil degradation.  

“Erosion, pollution and nutrient degradation are among major issues affecting soil fertility. Some 16 million tons of soil are subject to erosion yearly, which is higher than the global average,” he said.

According to Fadaeifard, soil salinization is another concern rooted in outdated irrigation systems that not only waste water but also raises the level of soil salinity, which in turn reduces food production.

Soil degradation can also have disastrous effects around the country by increasing floods, pollution and desertification.

"Even if farms are irrigated with the best quality water, food products will still be unhealthy due to soil pollution that is primarily caused by the overuse of pesticides and fertilizers," he said, stressing that the fertile soil around the city of Tehran is polluted.

Carelessness on the part of authorities and noncompliance with regulations by farmers "have allowed these dangerous chemicals to end up in our food".

The official stressed that despite being the source of fertility and growth, soil preservation has been neglected for years.



Water Import 

Although some officials are calling for importing water from other countries due to the unsustainable consumption patterns, Fadaeifard believes that those in charge need to concentrate on finding ways to reduce consumption instead of talking about import.

“We must focus on balancing demand and supply, and adapt ourselves to what is available. Importing water will not solve the problem.” 

The government’s inefficient and dysfunctional farming and water policies have “brought us to where we are today in terms of the water deficit”.

Insisting on the wrong policy to become self-sufficient in producing all water-intensive agricultural products over the last four decades has caused most underground resources to be depleted and the country now is on the verge of water bankruptcy.

Fadaeifard said close to 100 billion cubic meters of water are consumed in Iran annually, of which 96 bcm come from dwindling renewable resources and recycled water accounts for about 4 bcm.

Data from the Energy Ministry reveal renewable resources have declined from 130 billion cubic meters in 2013 to 96 bcm now.

The official complained that water resources have been used imprudently in the past four decades for expanding the agro sector and creating jobs.

“Such a policy has resulted in the depletion of groundwater resources and the dole queues have gotten bigger in the water-stressed sectors, such as agriculture, fishing, energy and industry,” he said, adding that there are two solutions to tackle the thorny issue: water import and/or inter-basin water transfer after desalination.

The first choice is almost out of the question as it will endanger the country’s sovereignty, independence and stability.



Necessary Evil

Referring to salinization and diversion of water to far-flung destinations, the official noted that it is a necessary evil and the only short-term solution.

“Desalination is good provided that the much-needed power to run the equipment is generated with the help of renewable energy, and because renewables account for less than 1% of total power generation capacity in Iran, desalination plans are behind schedule,” he added.

Desalinated water accounts for a meager 0.1% of the total annual water consumption in Iran while in some neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia, it is 70%.

Iran's annual water consumption is about 99 billion cubic meters, of which less than 100 million cubic meters (per annum) are produced via 60 desalination plants in the coastal provinces, namely Khuzestan, Hormozgan and Bushehr.

Approximately 142 million cubic meters of seawater are desalinated on a daily basis around the globe, but Iran's share is a meager 250,000 cubic meters.

Although Iran is located in an arid and semi-arid area, access to vast resources of saltwater in the north (Caspian Sea) and south (Persian Gulf) is a major advantage that has not been used. 

Two decades of drought are taking a severe toll on Iran’s depleting water resources. To handle the worsening water crisis, desalination is becoming a viable option in many countries where seawater is in abundance.

Fadaeifard concluded that improving the current water and soil conditions in Iran requires massive investment and as long as the US sanctions are not lifted and policymakers do not rethink their relations with developed states, things will get worse before they get better.


Food Security