Our Share of the Environment

Our Share of  the EnvironmentOur Share of  the Environment

If the past and present is anything to go by, one can only imagine what a terrible future awaits the environment. Global warming, water shortages, drought, air pollution, the toxic effects of carbon emissions, rising sea levels, rise in the earth/sea average temperatures, shrinking glaciers et al. The list is long and lengthy.

Political and economic leaders across continents are coming under increasing pressure, especially in the rich countries, to get their act together and help curb the environmental degradation visiting mother Earth in more ways than one. As for the developing world, some make no secret of the fact that “empty stomachs have no interest in this luxurious venture.” Their first, second and last priority is to find food and shelter, all else can come afterwards! Right or wrong, depends in which part of the globe you dwell.

Iran is hardly alone in the deep environmental problems it is facing. The world is fast running out of clean water, and all sorts of pollution continue to take their toll irrespective of national borders. From what is known, President Hassan Rouhani and his team are determined to find effective ways to help protect the environment.

Masoumeh Ebtekar, vice-president and head of the Department of Environment (DoE), as a matter of policy, has repeatedly appealed for help from civil society and experts in and outside the country in finding workable solutions to environmental problems.

This article seeks to focus on the most critical issues, namely, water scarcity, air pollution, land degradation and loss of biodiversity.

  Water Crisis

A problem of monumental proportions, which experts say could lead to World War III if the right solution is not found to provide the basic minimum water needs of all peoples.

Dwindling water resources has long been a problem across the Middle East, but things are more acute and getting worse, in Iran where almost 80% of the total landmass is situated in arid or semi-arid climate zones.

Last year, the energy ministry urged the people to reduce consumption by 20-30% while 12 major cities including Tehran and Shiraz have time and again faced the threat of water rationing should residents fail to cut consumption.

Water scarcity is caused by a combination of non-human patterns like decline in rainfall, rising temperatures resulting in more evaporation, and a range of human factors such as outdated  irrigation practices, excessive damming of rivers, wasteful consumption encouraged by low water prices, illegal welling, and unrestrained use of underground water tables for agriculture and industrial purposes.

The tragedy of Urmia Lake drying up is but one prime demonstration of the huge water crisis in Iran. The lake, as the sixth largest saltwater lake on Earth at its full size, and a UNESCO biosphere reserve located in northwestern Iran, started drying up 17 years ago. As of April 2014, only 5% of the lake’s water remains. The Urmia plight is reminiscent of other water problems like in Zayandehrud River, and Lake Hamoun, although in the latter competition for water by neighboring Afghanistan has played a role in its desiccation.

When Rouhani took office in the summer of 2013 he called for the formation of a special group to save Urmia and other dying wetlands. The government did more than just throw money at it and last year the DoE together with the UN Development Program (UNDP) held a conference with a group of international experts to find ways to solve Iran’s water shortage problem. Reports said the meeting approved 24 projects; however, even partial effects of the deliberations are not yet viable.

It has been reported that the government in Tehran with UN help launched a program in 2012 to train more than 13,000 farmers on water management and applying more efficient farming techniques.

  Air Pollution

Overexploitation of non-renewable energy along with costly fuel subsidies have largely contributed to the worsening air pollution for decades. But since 2010 when punitive western economic sanctions targeting, among other things, imports of gasoline began to bite, the situation moved from bad to worse.

Faced with possible fuel shortages, Tehran quickly made up for the loss of imports by producing its own gasoline. While the emergency fuel kept vehicles running, local experts warned that it was creating much more pollution. Based on Tehran’s Air Quality Control reports the amount of carcinogens in domestically-produced gasoline was twice to thrice the amount permitted by the Euro-4 standard. Air pollution reportedly imposed an annual bill of $8 billion, the director of Tehran’s Air Quality Control Company said in 2013. A year later thanks to DoE efforts and partial lifting of the sanctions, an end was put to the four-year pollution disaster.

The air quality in Iran is further harmed by another phenomenon called micro-dust storms, which mostly blow from the deserts in Iraq. Such storms beginning from 2002 first started to affect the western Khuzestan Province, and gradually spread to over 20 provinces. The World Health Organization said in a report that the western city of Khoramabad was among the top 10 polluted cities of the world in 2014. A year before, three other cities, namely Ahvaz, Yasuj, and Sanandaj were in the top 10. Recently some regional measures have been taken to reduce the dust.

  Desertification and Deforestation

We must keep our soil healthy in order to reduce the risk of drought and sustain our livelihoods, however land degradation in the form of desertification and deforestation have become a longstanding and increasingly severe problem in many parts of the world, especially in the developing world. In Iran, the rate of land degradation is alarming. Such destructive patterns have been driven by climate change trends, as well as human activities like converting forest and rangelands into cultivated land to cater to the growing population, overgrazing, irregular and uncoordinated exploitation of water resources, and over-use of wood and plants as fuel for household cooking and heating.

  Biodiversity Loss

Iran has 1,130 vertebrate species and more that 7,600 plant species. It is said to be the last habitat of big mammals like Asiatic cheetah, Persian Fallow deer, and Asiatic wild ass. It is rather unfortunate that its 111 fauna and 165 flora species are under different categories of the IUCN Red list. Worse, the two big cats (Persian lion and Caspian (Mazandaran) tiger went extinct six decades ago.  


A broad and overarching solution to environmental problems would be to involve communities in protecting the environment and integrate conservation into their daily life. We need to promote alternative livelihoods for rural communities – like ecotourism – to reduce unsustainable over-reliance on natural resource harvesting. We also need to improve our natural resource management strategies.

However, all this can only happen if governments, international organizations, businesses, communities and environmental conservation groups come together and carve out an agenda   for action and change. Most importantly, this will occur if and when we ensure that those who are to benefit from the decisions will also be involved in developing them.

Environmental activities can and should be followed on all levels; the family, neighborhood, city, country, and also the globe. It can help produce results if also conducted at different social, cultural, governing, and most importantly, economic levels.

A key factor that demands attention of all those concerned with and involved in environmental protection is consumption. Few if any effective resolutions to the complex problem would be comprehensible if we do not effectively change consumption patterns in all things that we use in daily life.