People, Environment

Revival of Hamouns on Track

The wetlands are integral to local economy.The wetlands are integral to local economy.

Over 40% of imperiled Hamoun Wetlands in Sistan-Baluchestan Province have been revived since the beginning of the current Iranian year (started March 21), the head of the provincial Department of Environment said.

The Hamouns are one of the major domestic sources of dust and sandstorms in southeastern Iran,  battering major cities such as Zahedan and particularly Zabol that was ranked by the World Health Organization as the most polluted city in the world (based on PM2.5 concentration) in early 2016.

"The wetlands today are in a much better condition, thanks to the efforts of environmentalists and the government," IRNA quoted Nayyereh Pourmolaei as saying.

In summer last year, 60 million cubic meters of water were released into the wetlands in three phases, which helped tame dust storms originating in the Hamouns.

Filling up Hamouns has also partially revived fishing and agriculture, both of which are highly dependent on the wetlands and key sources of income for the locals.

The partial revival of the Hamouns has been a boon for biodiversity and reportedly helped improve air quality. In addition, tourism to Sistan-Baluchestan is growing steadily.

"These are sufficient reasons to continue efforts to restore the wetlands," Pourmolaei said.

Hamouns are trans-boundary wetlands on the Iran-Afghanistan border and constitute three lakes: Hamoun-e Helmand, which is entirely in Iran; Hamoun-e Sabari on the border; and Hamoun-e Puzak, which is almost entirely inside Afghanistan. The construction of dams and canals in Afghanistan has led to water being drawn for agriculture in the Afghan provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and Nimrooz, causing water levels in the lakes to plummet. To make matters worse, four reservoirs were built within Iran, diverting more water and speeding up the desiccation of the wetlands.

Twenty years ago, most of the area was green, and flora and fauna abounded. The lake teemed with fish and the total annual catch used to exceed 12,000 tons.

With an area of about 50,700 square kilometers, the interconnected wetlands were considered the largest freshwater lake across the Iranian Plateau.

To attract global attention to the dire state of the wetlands and secure funds from international organizations, Iran is planning to nominate the Hamouns to UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Program. The wetlands are predominantly fed by Afghan rivers, although the amount of inflow Iran is legally obliged to allow into the wetlands (60 million cubic meters per year) is not sufficient to help restore the imperiled lagoons.

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