Battling water scarcity in Iran through effective forest management

March 15, 2016

As we are approaching the 21st of March, a date marking the International Day of Forests for this year and coinciding with the celebration of Nowruz in Iran, it is worthy to highlight the role of forest and trees as they host and safeguard the planet’s biodiversity and act as our natural defence against climate change.

This year the International Day of Forests will be celebrated globally under the theme of “Forests and Water”. This theme has been selected by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) because of the crucial role that forests play in the hydrological cycle.
Forests influence the amount of water available and regulate surface and groundwater flows while maintaining high water quality. Forests and trees contribute to the reduction of water-related risks such as landslides, local floods and droughts and help prevent desertification and salinization. Forested watersheds supply a high proportion of the world’s accessible fresh water for domestic, agricultural, industrial and ecological needs in both upstream and downstream areas.
By the year 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in regions with absolute water scarcity and two-thirds of the world’s population might experience water stress conditions. We are witnessing increasing problems with extreme events such as droughts and floods. The availability and quality of water in many regions of the world is increasingly threatened by overuse, misuse, pollution and projected negative impacts of climate change.
A key challenge faced by land, forest and water managers is to maximize the wide range of forest benefits without detriment to water resources and ecosystem function. This is particularly relevant in the context of adaptation to climate change, which increasingly reinforces the importance of sustainable forest management.
In the case of Iran, the country has an area of 164.8 million hectares situated in a geographical area where three climatic zones meet; the Mediterranean, the arid West Asian and the temperate humid/semi-humid Caspian zone. The country is both a meeting point for many cultures as well as for many types of climate, land, water and biodiversity. Of the total land area, about 52.4% are rangelands; 8.6% are forests and 19.5% are deserts including bare salty lands.
In addition Iran’s plateau, with a vast desert located in the central areas and two mountain ranges, Zagros in the West and Alborz in the north, comprises a significant portion of its territory. Being dominantly in an arid environmental zone, approximately 85% of Iran’s agricultural lands are located in arid and semi-arid areas. The country receives an annual rainfall of 240 mm, less than a third of world’s average precipitation. As a result, most rivers are seasonal and their flows depend heavily upon the amount of rainfall.
In terms of the extent of the forest cover, Iran with its total forest area of 12.4 million hectares (8.4% of the country cover) and a per capita forest area of 0.2 per cent is one of the 70 developing countries in the world characterized as Low Forest Cover Countries (with a forest cover of less than 10% of the country total land area). Nevertheless, Iran forests provide invaluable economic, social and cultural benefits to the country and its people, especially the rural households and low-income forest users.
Therefore, the role of forests in the country is vital to the sustainability of the environmental systems, particularly with respect to protecting water and soil resources and mitigation of adverse climatic effects such as water scarcity, dust storms and excessive heat.
Since the mandate of the Forestry Department of FAO is to support member countries comprising the Islamic Republic of Iran in managing their forests in a sustainable way, the Organization is ready to expand its assistance by lending a broad range of expertise in climate change mitigation and adaptation by developing adoptable technical tools and guidelines related to the forestry needs of the country from the specific dimension of redressing the challenge of water scarcity.