Iran faces growing environmental challenges that are now more perilous to the country’s long-term stability than either foreign adversaries or domestic political struggles. More than two-thirds of the country’s land-up to 118 million hectares-is rapidly turning into desert, Iran’s Foreign Range and Watershed Management Organization reported in mid-2013. “The main problem that threatens us [and is] more dangerous than Israel, America or political fighting… is that the Iranian plateau is becoming uninhabitable,” presidential adviser Issa Kalantari warned in the newspaper Ghanoon. “If this situation is not reformed, in 30 years Iran will be a ghost town.” He described an alarming future of desiccated lakes and depleted groundwater, potentially driving millions of Iranians from their homes.
Iran now ranks 114of 132 countries evaluated on 22 environmental indicators, including water resources, air pollution, biodiversity and climate change, according to the 2012 Environmental Performance Index compiled by Yale and Columbia Universities.
Iran’s fresh water supplies are now under unsustainable strains. Ninety percent of the country-which is slightly smaller than Alaska-is arid or semi-arid, and an estimated two-thirds of its rainfall evaporates before it can replenish rivers. As a result, Iran provides more than half of its water needs by drawing from underground aquifers, but public usage is rapidly draining the subterranean reservoirs. At current rates of overuse, twelve of Iran’s thirty-one provinces will exhaust their groundwater reserves within the next 50 years.Iran’s economic policies have exacerbated the problem. Groundwater is free to well owners and, due to government subsidies, users pay a fraction of the actual energy costs for pumping water to the surface. Iran annually pumps 4 billion cubic meters of groundwater that nature does not replenish.
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This article was first published in The Iran Primer on October 28, 2013.
Photo by Jeanne Menjoulet via flickr