A Pipe Dream

A Pipe DreamA Pipe Dream

Given Iran’s dependence on imported goods, it should come as no surprise that some factions are calling for water to be imported from neighboring countries. The energy ministry has been a staunch proponent of the idea for a couple of years, but the notion has drawn criticism from experts.

The idea of trading gas for water has drawn the ire of experts who claim it goes against the principles of sustainable development.

Fatemeh Zafarnejad, a water expert, called water import from neighboring countries “dangerous”, and added, “The proponents of the idea are convinced Iran can buy anything with oil; trade gas for water, trade gas for food. It won’t be long before they start thinking they can trade gas for air.”

The world is moving towards a renewable energy-powered future, and the movement to divest from fossil fuels is gaining momentum.

“Iran will be left with nothing when the world stops buying gas. Plans to swap gas for water threaten the country’s interests and independence, and are contrary to the principles of resistive economy,” she told the Persian daily Forsat-e Emrooz.

In line with norms of sustainable development, a strong resistive economy is imperative to food security, Zafarnejad said.

If left to their own devices, the powers that be might end up importing even the most basic needs, according to Zafarnejad. “Their schemes contradict the principles of Agenda 21.”

Agenda 21 is a United Nations-led, voluntarily-implemented action plan aimed at sustainable development which was devised as a result of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and refined in the following years. The action plan promotes self-sufficiency, especially in developing countries; efficient resource management; and strengthening the role of major groups such as women and local communities in societies’ progress toward sustainable development.

“Those in charge do not seem to have considered the future when they proposed water import. They believe they are in a position to decide the fate of the country,” she asserted.

  Fundamental Problems

Speaking to Forsat-e Emrooz, Isa Kalantari, a former agriculture minister, said the plan to import water “is not feasible”, adding that Iran’s neighboring countries have water problems of their own.

“Tajikistan and Azerbaijan are both grappling with water shortage. Iran might be able to import a limited amount of water from Azerbaijan,” he said, “but it will not solve anything.”

Elaborating on his anti-water import stance, Kalantari, who is an advisor to First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri on water affairs, claimed water shortage is not the main problem.

“The most pressing issue that needs to be addressed is mismanagement. Even if we end up importing water from the Moon, we will again end up in this mess as long as we continue to poorly manage water.”

Following a decades-long trend of declining water levels, Iran is apparently headed for an unprecedented water crisis, prompting officials to announce that water might be rationed later this year.

Located in of the most arid regions of the planet, Iran’s annual rainfall is a third of the global average, and it experienced a 27% decline in precipitation compared to the past year.

According to data from the energy ministry, the average Iranian uses 250 liters of water per day, while daily consumption in metropolises such as Tehran may exceed 400 liters per person. That means Iran’s water usage is twice the world standard.

Unsustainable agriculture is another culprit. Wasteful farming practices going back ages gobble 90% of Iran’s water, with a mere 35% efficiency which pales in comparison to the 70% in the developed world.

The consensus among experts, however, is that gross mismanagement, more than any other factor, is at the root of the problem. Rapid development and haphazard expansion of infrastructure with minimal regard for the long-term impact have created untold harm.