Water Cards on the Way

Water Cards on the WayWater Cards on the Way

Iran’s seemingly endless struggle with water shortage has compelled officials to consider distributing “water cards,” in the same vein as fuel cards, in an attempt to control  agricultural water consumption that has long reached prohibitive levels.

Speaking at a press briefing on Tuesday ahead of an event to commemorate National Water Day (March 3), Abbas Keshavarz, a deputy minister of agriculture , said the card will help monitor and control water use in a key sector saddled with unacceptable levels of  consumption, ILNA reported.

“We will install smart meters at every authorized water well,” he said.

Lamenting years of mismanagement, Keshavarz said the fact that the government has conceded that the country is indeed facing serious water shortage is a good sign. The Energy Ministry revised its position last year, announcing that Iran has less than 100 billion cubic meters of renewable water, as opposed to the usually reported 130 billion cubic meters.

Globally, the agricultural sector consumes about 70% of the planet’s accessible freshwater. This is while in Iran, outdated farming practices guzzle more than 92% of the country’s dwindling water reserves every year.

Located in one of the world’s most water-stressed regions, Iran’s rainfall is a third of the global average, which, combined with injudicious consumption, waste and climate change, has inflicted 16 years of relentless drought on the country of 80 million people.

Yet, some officials are loath to call the nation’s struggle with water shortage a crisis, even though it has already displaced hundreds of thousands of people and led to a disturbing trend in rural immigration. Several thousand villages and small towns across the country have been deserted as the influx grows into the bigger cities already overwhelmed by the unsustainable urbanization.

 Lack of Will

Some argue that Iran’s problem is not a shortage of water, but mismanagement of the resource and a lack of a strong will and commitment to tackle it.

Average per capita water consumption worldwide is about 140 liters, while the figure stands between 250 – 400 liters in Iran, depending on the region.

The Energy Ministry recently announced that it will cut off water supply to heavy consumers and impose hefty penalties before reconnecting. Some argue that the measure is a good start, but to ensure its results will last, public awareness must also be raised and water policies reviewed. They say those with unreasonably high water consumption tend to be affluent, so paying fines will not be the proper disincentive.

  Paying for Past Mistakes

The past two administrations’ (2005-13) indifference toward the state water use in Iran only served to exacerbate the problem, making a bad situation worse.

“If we fail to rein in consumption, we risk endangering every living being in the country,” the Persian daily Arman quoted Muhammad Hussein Shariatmadar, head of the National Strategic Research Center for Water and Agriculture, as saying.

Elaborating on the previous government’s obliviousness to the serious water problems, he recalled a plan in 2012 put forth by the administration that aimed to create 2 million hectares of farmland and create 500,000 jobs. Had it not been for the strong objections of researchers at the Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (ICCIM), the plan would come into effect.

“The researchers said the scheme would do far more harm than help, especially given the amount of water it would need,” Shariatmadar said.

Mohsen Jalalipour, head of the ICCIM, agrees. “[The previous administration] directed the water that rightfully belonged to Lake Urmia into the industrial sector to help produce goods worth $2 billion. But what actually happened was that they inflicted $200 billion in damages to the country.”

Reports indicating unrest among rural residents in remote regions of Khuzestan and Isfahan provinces is adding to concerns that with the water crisis getting worse conflicts could emerge and afflict larger communities.

Water experts warned last summer that water-related disputes could turn into major conflicts within five years, but the frequency of fights over scarce water recently suggests the ‘war’ might come sooner rather than later.

Officials at the Department of Environment warn that unless authorities completely change how water resources are managed, it is almost certain that water conflicts will only get worse.