People, Environment

Water Conflicts Could Worsen

Water Conflicts  Could Worsen
Water Conflicts  Could Worsen

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

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

“Unless we completely change how we manage water resources, it’s almost certain that water conflicts will worsen,” Mohammad Darvish, deputy for education and public participation at the Department of Environment, told Fararu news website.

“The problems so far are at an early stage, which means we can still stop it before they become ingrained in communities, which may lead to unending feuds that could last generations.”

Darvish said the Energy Ministry, which is the country’s top water authority, should take the lead on the matter.

  Poor Management

The outspoken official asserted that only 20% of Iran’s water dilemma is rooted in perpetual drought and climate change, meaning mismanagement is the undeniable culprit behind the nation’s decades-long struggle with water shortage.

Iran’s 80 million inhabitants need 8 billion cubic meters of drinking water every year; which is a meager amount considering official reports claiming that in the worst case scenario, Iran’s available water per year would be 100 billion cubic meters.

“Knowing this, it’s a wonder why in a region like Chaharmahal-Bakhtiari, which boasts 10% of Iran’s surface water, there are 60 villages that have absolutely no access to this precious resource,” Darvish complained.

Excessive dam construction and digging illegal wells are examples of a gross mismanagement which, according to Darvish, have led to accelerated land subsidence stretching a frightening 100 million hectares.

There are around 200,000 illegal water wells and nearly 1,000 dams in Iran.

A 40% drop in groundwater discharge — the volumetric flow rate of groundwater through an aquifer — over the past ten years has led to the deterioration of water quality, land subsidence, gardens and farms drying up, and uninterrupted migration from rural to urban areas.

According to Isa Kalantari, advisor to First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri on environmental affairs, prolonged drought and extreme water stress could displace 50 million Iranians unless early and effective action is taken to curb the impact.  

A substantial amount of Iran’s groundwater resources are used to irrigate farms. Iran’s old and wasteful farming practices gobble up over 90% of the water resources, with a mere 30% return.

The controversial Shafaroud Dam in Gilan Province, whose construction has led to public disputes between the DOE and the Energy Ministry, is the most recent example of the country’s affinity for building dams -- a trend strongly opposed by top environmentalists and economists alike.

Energy officials, however, claim the dam in Gilan is necessary to ensure a constant supply of water in the region, while environment officials argue that since Gilan is blessed with high annual rainfall, 4.5 times above national and 1.2 times above global average, there is no need for the dam that would eventually wipe out 100 hectares of the Caspian Hyrcanian forests.

Pointing to soil erosion as a more pressing concern, Darvish suggested it is time to stop intimidating the people by inculcating that the country is fast running out of safe drinking water and start rewriting water policies and management.

  Water Lobby

Water distribution has become increasingly profit-driven, according to Darvish, who has a degree in watershed engineering.

Not of the type to mince words, he said there is a “water lobby” that includes experts who work for Energy Ministry affiliates that benefit from Iran’s wrecked water policies.

“So changing how we manage water would mean that these people will lose business. About $143 billion has been spent on water distribution and dam construction projects, while another $43 billion is needed to complete unfinished projects,” Darvish said without providing specifics.

“Clearly, it’s too lucrative a business to pass up on.”

Reference to the so-called water lobby is indeed a new addition to the deepening water crisis and should serve as a wakeup call for those in charge. It is a serious charge unheard of in the recent history of the depleting resource in this country.