By Sara Rajabova
At a time when the world is challenged by climate changes Iran is experiencing a range of drastic ecological and environmental problems that need to be urgently addressed.
The most troubling ecological problems in the country is the water crisis, air pollution, land degradation, and desertification. Finding a proper solution to Iran's ecological problems and prevention of the environmental disaster are as important as removing the international sanctions imposed on the country over its nuclear energy program.
Along with the climate characteristics, the major reasons behind Iran's ecological problems are negligence towards these problems, mismanagement, usage of the low-quality equipment in the production and outdated methods in the agriculture and other fields.
Water scarcity and the air pollution are the most important problems that need to be addressed. Water resources are dwindling as Iran's major lakes, such as Lake Urmia and also small rivers have dried up and the groundwater levels have dropped. Air pollution has caused severe health problems and causes to the deaths of thousands of people annually.
Unless, decisive measures are taken, the ecological problems could turn into a greater disaster for the country in the near future.
Kamran Dadkhah, a professor of economics at U.S. Northeastern University told AzerNews that Iran is currently facing serious and damaging ecological and environmental problems.
"Air pollution in cities like Tehran has reached a dangerous level. Indeed, based on domestic and international data and reports, Iran ranks among the worst air polluted countries in the world. On the other hand, Iran has a shortage of water. Lakes and rivers have gone dry and there has been constant warning by government officials of impending water rationing," Dadkhah said.
He blamed the mismanagement of country's leadership for the ecological crisis in the country.
"In great part, this disastrous situation is the result of wrong policies adopted over the past 35 years. Although we should add that the drought in recent years has aggravated the water shortage," he said.
The expert noted that one reason for water shortage has been Iranian government's agricultural policies.
"From day one of the Islamic Republic, individuals who had no knowledge of economics or agriculture promoted the idea of 'self-sufficiency." After many years of false celebrations, Iran still imports grain and other basic food ingredients from abroad. But the policy combined with antiquated agricultural methods has resulted in excessive water consumption in agriculture and the drainage of ground water. Those who promoted "self-sufficiency" were the same people advocating the so-called Islamic economics," Dadkhah said.
He further said another factor that contributed to the present environmental disaster was the policy of artificially holding down the price of gasoline, energy, and water.
"The result was that the per capita consumption of gasoline and other fuels skyrocketed. In addition, cheap gasoline was smuggled to neighboring countries to be sold at higher prices. Given the limited capacities of Iran's refineries, the country has to import gasoline. When due to sanctions Iran had many difficulties in importing gasoline, the government resorted to producing gasoline in petrochemical facilities. These highly polluted products dramatically increased the level of air pollution and the government had to stop their production," Dadkhah said.
The Iranian government attempts to resolve the air pollution distributing clean gasoline in the country. Massoumeh Ebtekar, the head of the Iran's Environmental Protection Organization earlier said the distribution of clean gasoline has helped controlling air pollution in four large Iranian cities, including the capital, Tehran, where the government forced to declare some days off due to the high degree of pollution.
Speaking about the water shortage, Dadkhah also noted that similarly, water consumption for agriculture, drinking and other domestic uses increased.
"In the past few months, the government officials have talked about rationing water, limiting the water available to high-volume users, and reducing the water going to agriculture," he said.
In the beginning of the year, Hamid Chitchian, Iranian Energy Minister warned about the water shortage crisis in the country, stressing that the situation of water resources in Iran has gone beyond the critical level.
Gary Lewis, the UN Resident Coordinator in Iran told Al-Monitor last year that domestic use of water resources in Iran is about 70 percent more than the global average. Lewis said official statistics show that there is only 30 percent water-use efficiency in agriculture, a sector which accounts for over 90 percent of water use in Iran.
One of the issues of concern is that the ecological problems in Iran could have negative impact on the country's economy. These problems could affect Iran's exports of agricultural products while the country intends to raise its export to the foreign countries.
Iran is determined to take Europe's place in Russian food market, after Moscow's ban on food imports from the European Union, United States, Norway, Canada and Australia.
Commenting on the issue, Dadkhah noted that given the ecological situation, Iran is in no position to "replace Europe" in providing foodstuff for Russia.
"Iran can increase its export of some agricultural and food products to Russia, but the amount would not be substantial. It is conceivable that the government or those close to the centers of power push for an increase in exportable agricultural products. The incentive may be getting closer to Russia or monetary profit for those in power. Either way, the result would be a disaster for Iran's environment and ecology," Dadhkah said.