Dust Storm Plans Will Be Finalized by April

Plans to control domestic sources of dust will be finalized by early next Iranian year with priority given to Khuzestan, Sistan-Baluchestan, Kerman, Ilam and Hormozgan
Ahvaz has received 15 mm of rainfall since the beginning of the current water year (Sept. 23). Ahvaz has received 15 mm of rainfall since the beginning of the current water year (Sept. 23).
Permission has been granted to withdraw $100 million from NDFI to combat dust storms and $50 million more to improve Khuzestan’s electric power distribution network

All projects aimed at controlling dust storms in the country will be finalized by April, the head of the National Headquarters for Combating Dust Storms said.

Ali Mohammad Tahmasebi Birgani added that for the province of Khuzestan, the headquarters plans to plant saplings across 19,000 hectares of dust storm hotspots, evacuate cattle from 27,000 hectares and organize grazing over 12,500 hectares elsewhere in the next Iranian year (starting March 21), ISNA reported.

“Plans are also in place to plant trees and spray mulch across 10,000 hectares in different parts of Khuzestan to prevent dust from being blown by winds from the northeast,” he said.

He added that besides Khuzestan, the provinces of Sistan-Baluchestan, Kerman, Ilam and Hormozgan have priority in dust storm plans.

The official noted that the recent dust in Khuzestan originated from domestic sources, particularly the one in southeast Ahvaz.

The extreme lack of rainfall in the current water year (started Sept. 23) has exacerbated the condition.

“These areas experienced heavy showers in previous years, which both dampened the soil and helped vegetation. But since the beginning of this water year, precipitation in Ahvaz has only reached 15 millimeters,” he said.

This figure fades in comparison with the long-term average of 200 mm.

"Several petrochemical and road construction projects prevent the flow of water toward these areas,” Tahmasebi said, calling on the Energy Ministry to stop illegal withdrawal of water resources in these regions.

 Presidential Attention

The recent cloud of dust enveloping Khuzestan over the past week has raised widespread criticism against the government for failing to control a phenomenon that has affected the southern provinces for the past 10 years.

This compelled President Hassan Rouhani to dispatch Isa Kalantari, the DOE chief, and Mahmoud Hojjati, the agriculture minister, to the region for closer inspection.

The topic was also raised during the president’s interview on national television on Monday, in which he highlighted the projects underway as well as those planned for the future, but maintained that it takes time before the measures bear fruit.

“Whenever we begin, it would be already too late, but we must start the ball rolling anyway,” he said.

According to Rouhani, saplings have been planted over some 5,000 hectares and another 30,000 hectares will be covered by the end of the current fiscal year (March 20).

Some 5,000 hectares of desiccated land will also be covered by petroleum mulch by the yearend.

Besides, a huge water canal has been constructed to direct water from Karoun River to this area so as to dampen the earth and prevent the rise of dust.

“The 47-km canal will transfer 20 cubic meters of water per second to the land,” he added.

 Budgeting Hurdle

During his interview, the president affirmed that serious plans to curb the issue should have been implemented earlier but noted that lack of funds impeded the measures.

The government proposed in the budget bill the allocation of $150 million from the National Development Fund of Iran to control dust storms in Khuzestan. The paragraph was suspended by the Majlis Joint Commission because withdrawing from the NDFI requires a permit from the Leader of Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.

Rouhani pledged that “the fund will be supplied in whatever way possible even if the paragraph is removed from the budget bill”.

Soon after, Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezaei announced that the Leader has granted permission to withdraw $100 million from NDFI to combat dust storms and $50 million more to improve Khuzestan’s electric power distribution network.

Although many of Iran’s western provinces are grappling with the phenomenon, the issue is more serious in Khuzestan as it is affected by both domestic and foreign sources.

According to Kalantari, reclaiming ecological water rights is the most essential move to control domestic sources.

“Khuzestan’s environment requires 4 billion cubic meters of water and is currently short of 2.5 billion cm,” he said.

“When there is a water shortage, the share of all sectors should be reduced equally. It is not justifiable to cut down on wetlands and rivers’ rights for the sake of industry and farming.”

The agriculture minister, however, is very optimistic about the current measures. He said after his tour of the province that the saplings planted in March last year are now in good conditions and will hopefully stabilize in two or three years and their ecological impacts will become visible.

Hojjati said the water transfer canal is an engineering masterpiece that has been completed despite the short time and obstacles such as railroad and oil and gas pipes.

“We hope that with these measures, dust storms will gradually decrease and go away in the long run,” he said.





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