Western sanctions exacerbate Iran’s water problem

Western sanctions exacerbate Iran’s water problem

Azerbaijan, Baku, Jan. 30 / Trend /

Ellada Khankishiyeva, Trend Analytical Centre head

Water shortage has always been a pressing problem in Iran due to its arid and semi-arid climate. Today, as sanctions clamp down on the country, this issue has gained increased importance.

In the past, Iran has maintained its water levels through control of natural resources and extensive programs for subsidizing its population. At the expense of revenue from the oil exports that shaped the country's budget in its entirety, Iran imported all necessary foodstuffs, especially wheat and rice, production of which requires lots of water. Now, Iran cannot afford to continue on like this.

In addition, Iran is seeking to establish local production of industrial products that were previously imported. According to official in country data, the industrial and agricultural sectors are actively increasing production volumes to replace imports. However, the development of heavy industry (metallurgy, mining, large energy facilities) requires a significant increase in the consumption of fresh water. Agriculture also requires vast amounts of water, 41% of which is grown with risky bets placed on the weather.

Iran is actively seeking ways to ensure its increasing demand for water. According to Iranian media, Iran is currently in talks with other countries on the import of water to its provinces facing water shortages. However, the only country to offer its assistance to Iran is Tajikistan, which has a surplus of water, but is deficient in energy. Earlier, Tajikistan offered its water resources to neighboring countries free of charge; in turn, they were only to build a water pipeline and pumps at their own expense. Today, given Iran's thirst and the fact that it is willing to pay for water with its energy resources, Tajikistan will not give up its benefits for free. The water supply project is directly related to the construction of the pipeline to transfer Iranian oil to Tajikistan. Moreover, it is expected to not only deal with water, but also water and energy, which will result in the connection of national power grids.

In exchange for Iranian oil, Tajikistan is ready to provide clean drinking water from mountainous Lake Sarez in the Pamirs, and bring it to the Iranian province of Khorasan through the conduit. In turn, Iran is ready to begin the laying of the pipe to import one billion cubic meters of water. Although experts acquainted with the Sarez Lake region and technical features of the project believe that implementation of such a large-scale project may carry on for decades.

Iran has many more ideas concerning water provision described in its National Water Plan, but many of them are limited by international conventions. Thus, Iran's desire to use water from the Araz River to fill drying Lake Urmia may cause problems with Azerbaijan, with which Iran signed an agreement on the joint use of the Araz River. The construction of the Caspian - Persian Gulf shipping canal, which also provides for the transfer of 500 million cubic meters of water from the Caspian Sea to the central regions of Iran affected by drought, and its use in agriculture and industry, is contrary to international conventions and international agreements, coupled with the unresolved status of the Caspian Sea. Unresolved issues of division of border rivers (mainly the Hariruda and Helmand) can also lead to serious political conflicts with the neighbors.

Thus, lack of water has turned into another aggravating factor for Iran which is already experiencing social and economic difficulties due to international sanctions.

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