Polluted air, drought, water shortage and now an ailing soil. Similar fates have befallen earth, wind and water in Iran as the Department of Environment is warning against a new catastrophe: soil crisis.

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On World Soil Day ceremonies, held on December 23 in Pardisan Park in Iran, head of Iran’s Department of Environment Massoumeh Ebtekar confirmed the existence of the soil crisis in the country. The administration is so concerned about the situation that it has reportedly prepared a soil bill for approval by parliament; however, no details have been released about the bill. Ebtekar said that use of expired pesticides and chemicals and their effects on the soil are exacerbating the crisis. Another spokesman for the department stated that the country’s soil is “ailing” and agricultural activities should be restricted since the soil does not have the capacity to sustain the current volume of agricultural output .

Ailing Soil and the Issue of Pesticides
For long many organizations such as the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the UN have stressed the need to “manage the use of chemical pesticides in Iran” in order to protect public health. The Department of Environment has also stated that the use of expired and “unregulated” pesticides and chemicals can be traced in the country’s water and soil resources. Remnants of pesticides and fertilizers that have high levels of nitrate penetrate water and food products causing disorders in human immune, digestive and nervous systems. According to WHO reports Iran has the highest number of people with cancer in the digestive system. Contamination of agricultural products to nitrate rich chemicals and fertilizers has been identified as one of the most important causes of this deadly disease.

Statistics indicates that 2.5 million tons of chemical pesticides are used annually in Iran including 240 types of insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and other biocides covering 11 million hectares of agricultural land which translates into 2,250 grams of pesticides in each hectare of land.

Meanwhile mass entry of contraband pesticides and their use in the agricultural sector is posing a serious threat to human health as well as the environment. Last year head of Azerbaijan Agricultural Organization said: “Half a kilo of agricultural toxins is being consumed annually by each Iranian.” Health Minister Hassan Hashemi announced that the main part of agricultural toxins are entering the country illegally and the regulatory supervision over retailers and pharmacies that have permits to sell the pesticides and chemicals is very lax.

The toxins are being used extensively on crops such as cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, rice and apples leaving serious and permanent effects on human health and the environment. Fifty percent of the toxins used in Iran’s agricultural sector are smuggled into the country while most of these toxins are banned in many countries worldwide.

Meanwhile in recent years, with the arrival of the discourse of “resistance economy” and emphasis on self-sufficiency in agriculture, agricultural production has been promoted at any cost without sustainability considerations or regard for soil and water capacities, further exhausting the country’s environment.

Waste and Contaminated Soil
Another problem exacerbating the soil crisis in Iran is the accumulation of waste. Iranians produce 20 million tons of garbage each year. The average garbage production per capita in Iran is much higher than the world average. Iran is among the top nine countries adding plastic to the environment and only one percent of this form of waste is being recycled.

Iran’s Census Department announced this year that 29 percent of the country’s mines do not have an adequate sewage system and over three thousand mines eject their untreated waste including pollutants such as mercury and arsenic into agricultural lands and wells or in rivers and lakes.

A similar lack of adequate sewage system in 65 percent of the country’s cities and villages results in pollution of underground waters and soil.

On the other hand there are some farmers that have used sewage water to irrigate their crops leading to legislation setting national standards for irrigation of farms preventing use of untreated sewage water. Water shortage in the country has however made it difficult to completely uproot the practice.