Desiccating Wetlands, Mismanagement & Mores

Desiccating Wetlands,  Mismanagement & Mores Desiccating Wetlands,  Mismanagement & Mores

Competition over water resources has made upholding the water rights of wetlands difficult, hampering the national effort to revive the ecologically-rich water bodies.

Speaking to ILNA, Mohsen Soleymani Rouzbehani, director of Conservation of Iranian Wetlands Project, said the problem is especially pronounced in Khuzestan and Isfahan provinces, where water resources are dwindling and key wetlands are on the edge of complete desiccation. That is not to say that wetlands in other provinces, such as West Azarbaijan, which normally receives more rainfall than most of the country, do not suffer from similar problems.

“It all comes down to unsustainable development and mismanagement of resources, especially in the upstream sectors,” Rouzbehani said.

Poor planning and complete disregard for a region’s development capacity based on its water resources led to the construction of dams upstream years ago, spurring the growth and expansion of farmlands around the massive constructs. Consequently, farmers began competing for water and settlements began to spread downstream.

“So by the time you reach the end of a river (which leads to a wetland), there is no more water left to sate the marshland,” he said.

  Dams Part of the Problem

Rouzbehani said it is not entirely accurate to put the blame on dams alone.

“By opening a dam’s reservoir you release water downstream (which helps supply a portion of a wetland’s water right). The problem is the number of people that rely on that water and how they use it, which is the product of years of mismanagement,” he said.

Nevertheless, nothing has changed, because addressing the changes is costly.

“Relevant bodies aren’t willing to accept that we have a problem because changing our ways and shifting toward sustainable water consumption and management is apparently costly,” Rouzbahani said. “Take the Energy Ministry, for instance; their main policy is finding and extracting water, while it should be management of water supply and demand.”

Pointing the finger of blame to the Ministry of Agriculture, he said it is high time they encourage farmers to practice sustainable farming methods and make use of efficient irrigation techniques.

The destruction of wetlands is a concern because they are some of the most productive habitats on the planet. They often support high concentrations of animals — including mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates — and serve as nurseries for many of these species. Wetlands also support the cultivation of rice, a staple in the diet of half the world’s population. And they provide a range of ecosystem services that benefit humanity, including storm protection, flood control and recreation.

Desiccation of wetlands in Iran has taken a toll on both the people’s health and government coffers. The drying up of Hoor al-Azim in Khuzestan and the Hamouns in Sistan-Baluchestan has turned the once-thriving wetlands into major sources of dust storms, with the latter contributing generously to Zabol city’s ranking as the world’s most polluted city.

The Rouhani administration has been working closely with the United Nations Development Programme, which has led to the founding of the CIWP, to revive the country’s wetlands. Whether or not the effort bears fruit remains to be seen.