One million hectares of natural areas and lands in Iran are plagued with subsidence due to the unregulated extraction of underground waters and the depletion of aquifers. Meanwhile, the rate of soil erosion poses a serious threat to the future of the country’s environment and natural resources.
At a gathering on March 10 that was organized in collaboration with grassroots groups marking Natural Resources Week, the head of the Forest, Rangeland and Watershed Organization reported statistics about the current state of Iran’s natural resources and areas which he deemed to be critical.
Khodakaram Jalali stressed that the net depletion of underground waters has caused subsidence in one million hectares of land in different parts of the country. He blamed the inadequate management of water resources and the drilling of wells, with and without permits, as the chief cause of this catastrophe. “When deep and semi-deep wells are drilled without any adequate criteria in order to promote unsustainable farming, aquifers become depleted, levels of underground water drop and then 230 fertile fields all across the country are thrown into critical situations,” Jalali said.
The erosion of soil by water and wind, according to Jalali, is one of the chief challenges facing the country’s natural resources. He placed water erosion at 16.7 tons per hectare and wind erosion at 50 tons per hectare, stressing that water erosion is fast washing away fertile soil all across the country, a problem that needs to be addressed without delay.
Watershed Flow Management
According to the head of the Forest, Rangeland and Watershed Organization, watershed flow management is the cure to all the natural resource problems facing the country. Jalali stressed that while the technology has long been known in Iran, it has not attracted much attention. He stressed that the importance of watershed flow management has been proven all across the globe, and many countries are dismantling their dams to manage watershed flow.
Jalali added that in all development projects, watershed flow must remain a chief consideration. “When the issue of an economy of resistance was discussed at the Expediency Council meeting to determine the priorities of the Infrastructure Commission in view of limited water resources in the country, it was decided that the most fundamental, effective and productive action is watershed management.”
The overuse of forests and fields by livestock was identified as another challenge facing the country’s environment and natural resources, as Jalali reported that the amount of livestock in Iran is double what the country’s natural resources can accommodate. He emphasized that grazing by livestock is preventing the growth of new trees. In the Zagros Mountain Range habitat, he indicated, there are only aging trees, while in a balanced and dynamic forest, there must be trees of different age ranges.
Disease, pests and fungi were also identified as a major cause of deforestation. One million hectares of forest in the Zagros region have been infected with pests, and 15 percent of the forest habitat has been completely dried out.
The over-exploitation of forests and natural resources has also caused climate change, shortages of drinking water, desertification, loss of wildlife and repeated droughts. Thus, the country is facing the immediate consequences of resource depletion, such as the drying out of Lake Oroumiyeh, the depletion of wetlands, the loss of grassland and severe air pollution.
Restructuring of Government Subsidies and Deforestation
An earlier report by Jalali indicated that another factor affecting forests and grasslands is the restructuring of government subsidies. The government phased out subsidies on energy and food staples, which led to a sudden rise in energy prices.
According to Jalali, this has led many people to turn to wood and dry bushes for heating purposes, which is causing an even greater loss of forest and grassland.
Jalali was quoted as saying: “In order to protect natural resources, we first have to address poverty and unemployment and give people the means to provide for their livelihood.”