Economy, Domestic Economy

Sanitation, Conservation Key to Improve Access to Clean Water

Sanitation, Conservation Key to Improve Access to Clean Water
Sanitation, Conservation Key to Improve Access to Clean Water

Years of drought and the lack of proper sanitation methods and an integrated wastewater treatment system have constrained access to clean water across Iran. Officials have only recently started to look actively for a solution that could prevent a major environmental crisis.

Most of Iran’s population is connected to the main water system and therefore has access to a relatively high standard of drinking water. Although this in itself is impressive, it is “marred somewhat by the fact that an incredibly low number of people are connected to the sewer network,” a recent report by the Business Monitor International has said.

The lack of a proper sewer system has caused untreated waste water to pollute drinking water supplies. Although this is a possibly dangerous problem, it has been reduced significantly in recent years through government investment. Iran is currently trying to minimize the damage done by spreading drought while simultaneously investing in hydropower, desalination and major water pipeline projects.

 Water Supply and Consumption

As a result of years of drought, Iran has been forced to become over-reliant on its groundwater reserves without allowing them ample time to be naturally replenished. This overuse has drained the reserves and even permanently damaged the levels of underground reservoirs rendering many sources completely dry or unusable.

There are also certain regions where it has been predicted that the level of clean water will dramatically decline and be replaced with salty or polluted water if the remaining underground reservoirs continue to be excessively exploited. In turn, such polluted water could contaminate the remaining supplies. Where underground supplies have in the past helped Iran survive a year or two of drought, they have always been allowed to replenish naturally during the following years of higher rainfall.

In the current situation the drought seems endless and the temporary option of exploiting underground supplies will soon not be available anymore. Unfortunately, most of Iran’s underground water is also badly polluted because of lacking sanitation methods and illegally dumped agricultural waste. In some cases farmers use untreated waste as a free fertilizer for their crops.

Recent announcements that water prices are about to rise have caused dissatisfaction and even riots from an ever more cash-strapped population.The Energy Ministry has predicted that the annual volume of water available per capita would decline 25 percent over the next 20 years.

 Industries and Agriculture Water Consumption

Ninety-two percent of Iran’s water is used by the agricultural sector. On the other hand, industries use 6 percent and households only consume a tiny two percent of total consumption. Industrial water usage is relatively low as water is used efficiently and in many cases treated and re-used for various demands.

Leakages, low tariffs and inefficient irrigation mean that water productivity is poor. Worldwide, the average amount of dry agricultural product produced from each cubic meter of water is 2 .1kg, whereas in Iran the same amount of water produces only 0.5kg.

In order to preserve precious drinking water reserves, the MoE is encouraging the use of treated wastewater by industrial and agricultural consumers. Much investment has gone into water treatment plants as well as desalination. Making treated wastewater safe for industrial and agricultural use will positively affect drinking water reserves.

 Treatment and Sanitation

According to the BMI report, 96 percent of Iran’s population has access to improved drinking water but less than 40 percent is served by efficient or effective wastewater plants. As a result, a large amount of untreated waste is discharged into rivers and drains. Although urban areas are better supported than rural ones, there still exist a surprising number of major cities without basic sewage systems. The health ministry cannot realistically enforce strict rules on water quality when this percentage of the country has no access to sanitation. However, this situation is expected to improve as the sewage network continues to expand.

To combat increasing water shortages, the MoE has been urged by the Expediency Discernment Council to encourage the treatment and reuse of wastewater while imposing stricter strategic guidelines on how all types of water are used.

There are currently millions of people discharging their domestic waste into rivers and drains.  The government is attempting to address this problem with the construction of wastewater treatment plants and by expanding sewage networks. Agricultural and industrial wastewater is also often discharged untreated. However, the government is looking into regulating this more stringently. There is also a hope that as more wastewater is treated and reused, less fresh water needs to be allocated to industries.