Reforestation projects implemented in Khuzestan

January 29, 2021 - 17:20

TEHRAN – Two reforestation projects on tree plantation and surface water management were put into operation in the southwestern province of Khuzestan on Thursday, IRNA reported.

The projects were launched in sand and dust hotspots of Mahshahr city during a ceremony held virtually with President Hassan Rouhani in attendance.

Over the past two years, reforestation plans have included plantation on 6,500 hectares in the cities of Ahvaz, Karun, Mahshahr, and Hoveyzeh, Kourosh Kiani, Director of provincial natural resources organization, said.

The surface water management plan will be implemented on 10,010 hectares, which will reach 13,500 hectares by the end of the year (March 21), he added.

Referring to a budget of 310 billion rials (nearly $7.3 million at the official rate of 42,000 rials) spent on the projects, he said that 223,000 out of 350,000 hectares of sand and dust sources in Khuzestan province have been controlled by implementing projects of moisturizing the soil, planting seedlings and vegetation, surface water management, and grazing management.

Since the past decade, southern and western provinces of the country are frequently hit by severe sand and dust storms, as well as drought, which is caused by both internal and external hotpots. Major external SDSs sources are Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.

It was around the year 2005 that the first signs of sporadic SDS appeared in southwestern Iran. Just seven years later, sand and dust storms became so persisting and terrible that PM concentration reported 22 times above the safe levels.

In fact, Iran has been repeatedly exposed to SDSs due to its presence in the arid and semi-arid parts of the world; consumption, changing the pattern of cultivation, and climate change have increased the negative effects of this phenomenon.

The SDSs hotspots in other countries stretch to 330 million hectares, with an average of 150 million tons of dust generation per year, Ali Mohammad Tahmasebi, head of the national working group for SDSs mitigation, said in October 2020.

He went on to say that important dust sources in the country’s provinces estimated at 34.6 million hectares, with an average amount of 4.24 million tons of dust per year, of which 122.7 kilograms of dust per hectare is raised annually.

A sandstorm or dust storm is a meteorological phenomenon usually caused by strong and turbulent winds blowing over loose soil or sand and sweeping up large quantities of sand or dust particles from the ground, clouding the air and reducing visibility drastically.

How to mitigate the effects of SDSs

According to EcoMENA, sand and dust storms cause significant negative impacts on society, economy, and environment at local, regional and global scales. There are three key factors responsible for the generation of sand and dust storms – strong wind, lack of vegetation, and absence of rainfall. The environmental and health hazards of such storms cannot be reduced permanently, however, its impact can be reduced by taking appropriate measures.

As the dust cloud rises, it reduces horizontal visibility which can impact human life in many ways. The fine suspended particles also contain contaminants, bacteria, pollens, which cause negative health impacts such as allergies and respiratory diseases. Dust also carries airborne pollutants such as toxins, heavy metals, salt, sulphur, pesticides, etc. which cause significant health impacts when people inhale the contaminated dust.  Dust can corrode buildings and other built infrastructure as it contains a high level of salts.

The effects of sand and dust storms can be reduced by using a number of health and safety measures and environmental control strategies.  Large-scale sand and dust storms are generally natural phenomena and it may not be always practicable to prevent it happening.

However, control measures can be taken to reduce their impacts. Localized small-scale dust emission due to human-induced activities can be reduced by using temporary mechanical methods such as concrete barrier, mulching, tree buffer, etc.

Taking appropriate control of dust raising factors such as increasing the vegetation cover where possible can help in the stabilization of the soil, sand dunes, and form windbreaks. Additionally, the use of native plants and trees as the buffer can reduce wind velocity, and sand drifts at the same increase the soil moisture. Designing buildings appropriately and conduct air infiltration testing during building commissioning can also help the adverse effects of sand and dust storm.

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