By Azam Bahrami
The Iranian constitution has concrete language prohibiting any form of development detrimental to the country’s environment. However, the large scale water transfer projects considered by the government as remedies to the ongoing water shortage vows in various regions of the country have fallen short of showing concrete consideration of sustainable development.
The administration has also failed to consult people who are most familiar with the history and atmospheric conditions of the regions affected with shortage of water to effect successful policymaking and this failure has become a source of insecurity, discrimination and chronic interprovincial disputes.
Caspian Sea water transfer to Semnan
With an estimated budget of 2-3 billion dollars (6 to 9 trillion toumans), the grand water transfer project from Caspian Sea to Semnan was controversial from its very conception by Mahmood Ahmadinejad’s administration. Despite some later indications by parliamentarians and reports of a budget to study the project, deputy head of the Centre for Strategic Studies announced last month that the project was completely untenable.
Water transfer from Khuzestan rivers
According to the first convention for the protection and conservation of wetlands which was adopted forty years ago, Khuzestan was identified as a region rich in bodies of water and wetlands. The province has twelve major rivers including Karoon, Karkheh, Maroon and Arvand Rood.
In spite of all the water resources, Khuzestan currently faces serious soil erosion, dust storms and shortage of clean drinking water due to severe climate change and continuous drought conditions. The province became the stage of the first protest against the government’s water transfer policies challenging a proposed project to transfer water from Karoon to Rafsanjan under the Akbar Hashemi Rasanjani administration.
The rivers in Khuzestan also feed the water resources of Lorestan and Chahar Mahal Bakhtiayari. Interference with the rivers has already caused exacerbation of soil erosion, forest fires and dust storms in the three provinces. Yet the government channels billions of cubic metres of water form the region to the central provinces annually. The transfers are repeatedly protested in Khuzestan with human chains around the bodies of water in the region.
Water transfer from Chahar Mahal Bakhtiyari
On July 16, 2016 the people of Boldaji, in Chahar Mahal Bakhtiyari staged protests to the water transfer project through tunnels to Borojen. The dispute which has been ongoing for the past three years brought protesters head to head with security forces during which a protester was killed and over thirty people were injured.
The water administrators in the province stress that close to 90 percent of the province’s water needs are supplied by groundwater reservoirs which according to reports are already overused due to continued drought conditions and deep welling.
In response to the clash with the protesters, Boldaji MPs resigned, environment activists and organizations cautioned against the security laden approach to environmental issues and Ayatollah Kaabi, senior cleric and member of the Guardian Council in an unprecedented statement by a member of the clergy branded water transfer projects from the province as illegal and sinful (haram).
Practical solutions to the country’s water administration challenges could involve investment in waste water purification and water desalination using renewable energy, devising of sustainable agricultural practices and assessment and implementation of effective plans to manage the dust storms in various regions of the country.
Meanwhile a national campaign to promote a culture of water conservation and to engage the public in implementation of solutions is imperative in overcoming the country’s water shortage problems.