Drought to force Iran to shut down agriculture

Photo: Drought to force Iran to shut down agriculture / Economy news

Baku, Azerbaijan, August 1

By Umid Niayesh - Trend:

A severe country wide water shortage across the Islamic Republic of Iran could result in the disappearance of the 3,000-year-old agriculture industry, an Iranian climate expert said.

The drought will hit sooner or later, but it's the anticipation that Iranians are learning to cope with. Iran is currently undergoing some tough economic times.

"For the time being Iran's limited water reserves are strategic and agriculture is not an economic priority sector any more," Nasser Karami, Iranian physical climatologist who is an associate professor at the University of Bergen in Norway told Trend on July 31.

Located in an arid zone, Iran is just one of the countries facing severe water problems, such severe droughts have plagued the country over the last 40 years. The drought of 1992-2002 caused a major blow to agriculture. There were quotas imposed for fresh water in several cities, including the capital Tehran.

Karami explains that food security is an important issue for all countries having a stable agriculture sector for a country such as Iran is a serious priority, however under the current circumstances using limited vital water sources for the agriculture sector is not logical.

Iran faces serious threat of loosing its water resources and changing into a desert because of the depletion of groundwater sources, the expert said.

Producing any agricultural product in Iran costs several times more than its import, considering the real price of the water, he underlined.

Iran's total annual water consumption is approximately 93 billion cubic meters, out of which about 92 percent is used in agriculture (86 billion cubic meters), 6.6 percent in municipality (6.18 billion cubic meters), and 1.2 percent in industry (1.12 billion cubic meters), according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO).

Up to 70 percent of water used in the agriculture sector is being wasted, Iranian officials say.

The country ranks first in the world for wasting water resources, Massoumeh Ebtekar, head of Environmental Protection Organization said on Jan 9. The out dated agriculture activities are the main culprit behind the current water crisis in Iran.

Karami says that Iran has changed its previous traditional agricultural models which were tested over the last 3,000 years.

New lands went under cultivation without considering its capacity, suitable crop types changed and the irrigation methods which were not suitable with the water reserves used, he explained.

He went on to note that 650,000 deep wells were drilled in the country in recent decades which swallowed groundwater.

In the last 30 years Iran consumed 70 percent of its groundwater reserves, which were collected in a million years, according to the expert. Up to 62 percent of water used in the country's agriculture comes from groundwater reserves, according to the FAO.

While responding to a question about possible solutions, Karami said that it is too late to take efficient steps on the issue. However, he says that Iran has no choice other than to limit its agriculture sector to very strategic products as well as products with lowest water consumption level.

"The main part of the Iran's agriculture sector should be shut down, because the country has entered a long-term period of drought," Karami said, adding that "in particular if we notice very low efficiency rate of water sources which are used in the sector."

He also noted that the issue is beyond eliminating agriculture.

"Drought is also destroying the country's wildlife and nature. Plains are changing to deserts. Habitats have disappeared in recent 30 years and the country has lost over 90 percent of its wildlife," Karami explained.

He also expressed concerns about possible water-based wars between the country's different regions in the next decade.

He said the officials should forget about the agriculture and pay attention to the water crisis, treating it as a national security issue, the expert added.

Issa Kalantari, secretary general of Iran's House of Farmers and former agriculture minister, said last year that Iran's water crisis wass more of a threat to the country than "Israel, the U.S. or political infighting."

Kalantari went on to say that if the water issue is not addressed, Iran could become a place where no one can live.

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