Iran Reiterates Regional Coop. in Combating Dust Storms

President Rouhani said environmental problems transcend borders and only cooperation on a global level can help tackle dust storms and curb their impacts
President Hassan Rouhani addresses the International Conference on Combating Sand and Dust Storms in Tehran on July 3.President Hassan Rouhani addresses the International Conference on Combating Sand and Dust Storms in Tehran on July 3.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said tackling dust and sand storms requires planning, investment and, most importantly, cooperation among neighboring countries and the international community.

Speaking at the opening of the three-day International Conference on Combating Sand and Dust Storms in Tehran on Monday, Rouhani said environmental problems directly affect health, adding that addressing environmental woes is integral to stopping mass migrations, Mehr News Agency reported.

Dust and sand storms have arguably become the most pressing environmental problem affecting the Middle East, with major dust storm hotspots in Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia exacerbating an otherwise normal phenomenon.

“These storms sometimes move around 8 billion cubic meters of dust,” he said, adding that Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Turkmenistan are also sources of dust storms.

Echoing Iranian experts, the president said hotspots in Iran contribute only 20% to dust storms in the country.

He stressed that environmental problems transcend borders, saying that the drying up of rivers in Iran will eventually affect neighboring countries.

“Dam construction in Afghanistan and Sistan-Baluchestan Province (in Iran) play a role in the desiccation of rivers,” he said. “People will be forced to leave their homes; civilizations will be destroyed.”

Taking a dig at US President Donald Trump, Rouhani said “the era of erecting walls has passed” and emphasized the need to “join hands, not sever bonds.”

  Taking Measures

The president said reforestation and anti-desertification measures have been implemented in 7.5 million hectares of the country, but around 2 million hectares are still in need of attention.

“The government takes desertification seriously and will continue to combat it,” he added.

To help stop the expansion of hotspots in neighboring countries, Iran has called for the cooperation of Iraq, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.

“Every country in the region has to cooperate … We need to feel like a family,” Rouhani said.

Experts say the main reason behind the formation of hotspots in Iraq and Syria is Turkey’s rampant dam construction since the 1970s, which has reduced water flow through these countries by 80% and 40% respectively.

Iranian officials, particularly Massoumeh Ebtekar, the head of the Department of Environment, have called for “water diplomacy” and urged the Foreign Ministry to hold negotiations with Turkey.

“We’ve let Turkey know that we want to discuss the matter with them,” Deputy Foreign Minister for Asia-Pacific Affairs Ebrahim Rahimpour told IRNA on the sidelines of the conference.

Representatives and experts from over 30 countries, including Iraq, Turkey, Germany, Britain, Sweden, Lebanon, Jordan and the US, have traveled to Iran for the event. Erik Solheim, director of the UN Environment Program, is also attending the conference, which is scheduled to end on July 5.

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