EghtesadOnline: Watershed management projects have been carried out for almost one million hectares in 10 flood producing provinces in 12 months, head of Flood Control and Watershed Management Department at the Forests, Range and Watershed Management Organization said.
“The organization plans to expand the projects by 800,000 hectares in next fiscal year (starts March) to protect and improve the quality of water and other natural resources within watershed boundaries,” Abolqasem Hosseinpour was quoted as saying by ILNA.
Costing $26 million, the plan was implemented in Golestan, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Bushehr, Ilam, Khuzestan, Kermanshah, Sistan-Baluchestan, Khorasan Razavi and Kohgiluyeh-Boyerahmad.
“The projects helped minimize flood damage caused by heavy rainfall in Dashtestan and Borazjan counties (Bushehr Province) in September” and need further funding.
Managing and developing watershed projects is much lower than the cost and damage inflicted by flooding, the official said, and added that spending on watershed programs is a long-term investment that helps mitigate flood damage.
“Watershed schemes, however, are a slow process and need a shot in the arm.”
A watershed is an area of land that drains rainwater or snow into a location such as a stream, lake or wetland. The water bodies supply drinking water, water for farming and industries, and provide habitat to plants and animals.
Hosseinpour believes efficient watershed management may be the only way out of the perpetual drought that over time has worsened in large parts of the country and experts say watershed projects must cover a total of 150 million hectares.
He lamented negligence toward the role and significance of watershed projects and said in the Fifth Five-Year Economic Development Plan (2011-2016) watershed management projects across 8 million hectares was included but to no avail.
“Techniques such as flood control, aquifer management and revival of natural resources in a watershed area can help reinforce groundwater resources, most of which are depleting faster than previously estimated.” Official reports suggest all of Iran’s 31 provinces suffer from drought to various degrees.
Moreover, efficient management of groundwater resources in border regions is crucial to curb water shortages and stop (possibly reverse) rural-urban migration that has become a cause of concern among economic experts, urban managers and policymakers.
Nonetheless, financial constraints have always delayed water management plans, he noted.
"Aquifer management and watershed management have been relatively effective in alleviating the water deficits, especially in the border areas. But our organization has never received enough funds to improve and develop the techniques."
There is no denying that sustainable development in the border regions is key to protecting national security. However, it is unclear why helping border dwellers have a decent livelihood, which depends largely on water, has not been given the importance it deserves, he rued.
"Combating poverty in such regions and providing border populations [namely farmers] with a secure livelihood, among other things, demands efficient aquifer and watershed management for which we need more funds."
According to the official, Iran shares 16 water basins with neighbors including Hirmand River, Aras River, Harir Roud, Atrek and Sumbar, Karasu and Sarisu Rivers and Arvand River originating from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkmenistan Turkey and Iraq respectively.
Although trans-border rivers and shared water resources cover 25 million hectares, water management techniques cover less than 600,000 hectares in drought-stricken (eastern) border regions, that is why the water shortages have worsened, he added.
Rural development has apparently been on the agenda of successive governments, but they seem oblivious to the fact that plans, however big, will not and cannot be fulfilled unless groundwater resources are managed responsibly and efficiently, he noted.