The Water Crisis; Is Anybody Listening?

Energy Desk
So long as old paradigms, including dam building and inter-basin transfers to far-flung regions, are not replaced with effective and efficient methods like integrated water resources management, shortages of this vital resource will get worse
Yazd and Kerman provinces were pioneers in adapting their lifestyles with water paucity for as long as history can recall.
Yazd and Kerman provinces were pioneers in adapting their lifestyles with water paucity for as long as history can recall.

Population explosion, massive urban expansion, agriculture issues, rising consumption, waste and climate change have pushed rivalry for sustainable water resources to alarming levels. 
Novel ecological, technological, managerial and cultural solutions are indeed of paramount importance but are nowhere near the priority list of successive governments in Tehran. 
Professor Mahmood Ziaei, a faculty member of Tehran’s Allameh Tabataba'i University, made a startling evaluation of the worsening water crisis in Iran at a webinar named “Water and Tourism in Iran” on Feb. 21.
“So long as old paradigms, including dam building and inter-basin transfers to far-flung regions, are not replaced with new and workable methods like integrated water resources management [IWRM], shortages of this vital resource will get worse before getting better,” he warned.
IWRM is a process that promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.
Ziaei said the country is long suffering from water management illiteracy because fundamental concepts like spatial planning and IWRM – critical for sustainable development – are absent in long-term planning. 
Spatial planning, also referred to as land-use planning, is a fundamental concept for sustainable development that rests on the principle that the current needs should be met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. 
It is rather strange that private Iranian companies like Mahab Ghodss, a leading engineering consultancy firm, win international tenders to carry out IWRM projects in India, Tanzania and Nepal … but when it comes to the home country, they are mainly involved in dam construction.


Pooling Minds

Referring to another key factor to resolve the water crisis, the professor noted that all relevant executive bodies, particularly the Energy Ministry, the Department of Environment and Agriculture Ministry, must shun individual gain and pool minds to safeguard national interests.
“The absence of such cooperation has already created a zero-sum situation as those who have more political clout have easy access to [shrinking] water resources, while rural populations like those in the southern provinces are deprived of safe drinking water and sanitation that are basic human rights,” he said.
“Technology can play a key role in addressing the grave water crisis, but little if any progress has been made to this effect.”
Unlike those who blame the US sanctions for lack of technology development in the key water sector, Ziaei noted that despite the economic blockade, Iran has made “major breakthroughs in indigenizing advanced defense equipment as necessary. But the water sector seemingly was not a priority and investment in developing water technology has been lackluster.”
Annual water consumption in Iran is around 100 billion cubic meters, of which 90% are gobbled up by the agro sector due to outdated farming methods and dilapidated equipment.
The faculty member stressed that the people in general and those in charge in particular need to rethink their approach toward Nature. 
“Human beings do not own the environment and the harm inflicted on ecosystems has already taken a heavy toll” on the health and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people and the environment, resulting in climate change, extreme weather events and a surge in natural disasters over the past 50 years, which have disproportionately impacted poorer countries.
As one example, he noted that building dams and not allowing water to find its natural course to the seas adversely affects the salinity of aquatic bodies and those who insist on building more dams either are oblivious to this fact or do not want to accept it.
“New values, virtues, beliefs and progressive thinking must be embedded in the education system, otherwise there will be no workable resolution to the water situation that has gone from one crisis to the next over the decades,” Ziaei told the meeting. 
According to Majid Labbaf Khaneiki, an expert at the International Center on Qanats and Historical Hydraulic Structures, Iranians, especially urban residents in the arid Yazd and Kerman provinces, were pioneers in adapting their lifestyles to water paucity for as long as history can recall. 


Poor Planning

Nonetheless, deficient plans like building water-intensive industries, such as steel mills in the heart of the desert, and insisting on agro self-sufficiency have turned out to be a recipe for disaster as demand outweighed supply and over-extraction from ground water resources ruined the qanat systems in the central regions, leading to the gradual disappearance of farmlands and disturbing migration patterns. 
Khaneiki, a staunch opponent of dam building and water transfer projects, believes that these are the root causes of multiplying conflicts among local tribes as dams and similar structures have pushed people to ignore riparian rights that were highly respected when dams did not exist.
“One effective way to tackle water paucity in Iran is to collect and treat unconventional water, including wastewater and grey water. The collection and use of agricultural drainage can also help,” he said.
The bottom line is that the water problem in Iran is not as complicated as it seems because workable solutions are available. 
But the unfortunate fact is that policy- and decision-makers, most of whom lack the necessary knowhow and skills, are preoccupied with other issues and have no time for the pleas and petitions of the academia and experts.

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