People, Environment

Illegal Water Project Endures

Illegal Water Project EnduresIllegal Water Project Endures

The law has been left unenforced for so long that brazen contractors see no need to comply with orders issued by authorities; case in point being the construction of Sabzkouh Water Supply Tunnel in Chaharmahal-Bakhtiari Province.

Work was suspended following an official directive from the Energy Ministry last September, but resumed again without any official organization or authority actually lifting the ban.

Mehr News Agency reported at the weekend that work has “resumed in full swing with the TBMs excavating” round the clock. The tunnel boring machines do not have the permits to operate, but nevertheless have been brought to the site by the contractor, which it did not name.

In sum, the project, the tunnel, the contract, the machines, the drilling…everything is illegal. One only wonders how in a country that supposedly has stringent rules and regulations plus an army of organizations in charge of implementing it, can any illegal contractual work continue at this level and make such mockery of the law.

Speaking to the news agency, Department of Environment chief Massoumeh Ebtekar, who has been a staunch opponent of the scheme ever since it was first announced said the project must be stopped because it is illegal.

“Once we receive official confirmation that work has resumed, we’ll take the necessary measures,” the embattled environment chief, who also is a vice president, said.

Once it emerged last year that the contractors had failed to apply for and obtain the necessary permits from relevant authorities, such as the DOE and Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, environment officials and activists pressured the Energy Ministry to halt the project. The ministry, which initially resisted the pressure, gave in and issued an order to suspend the project, stressing that “until the DOE and ICHHTO issue permits, the project would not proceed.”

Environmentalists hail the ministry’s confession that the project did not have the necessary permits as a major step forward, but also express concern with the lack of initiative from certain officials to strongly uphold and respect the laws of the land.

“It is indeed encouraging to see the ministry own up to their mistake publicly. But it’s visible that there’s a lack of initiative among middle management (who are normally in charge of implementing decisions) to stop the project despite an official order from higher-ups,” the news agency quoted Houman Khakpour, an activist, as saying.

  Exacerbating Water Crisis

The official line is that the project’s main aim is to supply drinking water to the residents of Choghakhor, a rural region in the southwestern province. However, many claim the real purpose of the project is to meet the huge water needs of a Chaharmahal-Bakhtiari Steel Company, which is owned by the Esfahan Steel Company, one of the biggest and most powerful corporates in Iran.

“The true purpose of this project is to help develop the region’s industries and agriculture,” Khakpour added.

According to the news agency, it is written in the project’s feasibility study that no environmental assessment has been carried in nearly half of the path which the tunnel is supposed to run through.

The tunnel’s construction has already led to the choking off of several streams, and if it is allowed to proceed it will lead to the cutting of many more, threatening upward of 150 million cubic meters of water and exacerbating the province’s already severe water crisis.

Independent economists and prominent academia have often warned about the threat of the water-intensive steel mills and the major petrochemical projects that were built in and around several cities “without proper feasible studies.”

With the water crisis becoming worse with every passing year, the very existence of the industrial behemoths has come under closer scrutiny. However, senior officials and owners of the mainly state-owned/affiliated plants have preferred not to indulge in debates related to the worsening water-related problems and/or the need to relocate the plants still enjoying government largesse in the form of costly subsidies.