By Faranak Bakhtiari

One step to water crisis

July 2, 2022 - 17:26

TEHRAN – If a country has more than 1,700 cubic meters of water per person per year, there is no water shortage, but the upward trend of rainfall shortage surpassed the standard rate and if it declines more, we are one step away from a water crisis.

Drought, low rainfall, and then water shortage is the problem of many countries, especially Iran, which is also located in an arid region.

Since ancient times, Iran has been constantly struggling with water shortage, which caused the creation of qanats, so that people actually accepted that water is scarce in the country.

But for several years, along with the industrial and agricultural development, it seems that the available water resources have been used unbridled, and the result is being on the verge of a water crisis.

In fact, entering a water crisis is an index that is measured based on the amount of water available per cubic meter per person per year, according to this index, if a country has more than 1,700 cubic meters of water per person per year, there is no problem with water resources.

However, if this amount goes below 1,000 cubic meters per person per year, we will enter a water crisis from water stress.

Of course, parts of the country are struggling with a water crisis, but we have not yet reached that stage in the country as a whole.

Now the country is in a position where, due to extreme and climatic conditions, the average rainfall is lower than the similar long-term average, Director of Water and Wastewater Research Center Abbas Akbarzadeh said.

“In the best case, it should be expected that the country will return to the long-term average rainfall, in fact, for hundreds and thousands of years, the average rainfall in the country was 250 mm per year, which has now decreased to about 200 mm per year and is still decreasing.

Forecasts show that rainfall will continue to decrease until 2050. Therefore, if the country receives a short period of rain, people should not think that the situation has returned to normal,” he explained.

In 1920, Iran had about 17,000 cubic meters of water per person, which listed the country among those with rich water resources. Of course, we should note that the population in the country was smaller than now. After that, we experienced the trend of population increase and decrease in rainfall, so that after a few decades, the country experienced water stress.

The predictions of some international forums show that Iran will reach 500 cubic meters of water per capita in 2050, which will be disastrous. But with new technologies, the above problem can be managed and solved, if the necessary plans are implemented and new and technological ideas are used, he said.

One of the solutions is optimizing water consumption in agriculture. The rate that the World Bank has estimated for this sector in order to deal with the water shortage crisis in the MENA region, i.e. North Africa and the Middle East region, is about 40 percent, in other words, if modern irrigation systems are used in agriculture, we can save up to 40 percent of the water consumed in the agricultural sector.

Iran experiences frequent droughts and faces the prospect of more extreme conditions brought about by climate change.

Of course, reaching this number is quite practical, with the development of modern irrigation systems, the expansion of greenhouse farming, and the change of the cultivation pattern.

The next issue in the water management sector is the development and optimization of conventional methods such as water treatment plants, which can be used to reduce water loss or reduce evaporation in the process.

4.8m people at medium to high risk 

The amount of rainfall in Iran's main river basins from September 2020 to July 2021 was, in most places, substantially lower compared with the year-earlier period. Iran experiences frequent droughts and faces the prospect of more extreme conditions brought about by climate change.

According to current assessments, parts of Iran are facing a rainfall anomaly which has had an observed impact on vegetation and agriculture. Of particular concern is that these drought impacts have been observed in northeastern Iran in areas bordering Afghanistan.

The Iranian Red Crescent Society estimates that 4.8 million people are at medium to high risk of drought-related impacts, mostly in remote and rural areas of the provinces.

It reports that 29 of 31 provinces, and especially seven – South Khorasan, Kerman, Sistan-Baluchestan, Hormozgan, Khuzestan, Isfahan, and Khorasan Razavi – have been severely affected by the drought. The lack of safe and sufficient water supply for drinking, hygiene, agriculture, animal husbandry, and electrical power is having a devastating and increasingly unsustainable strain on households’ health, and income in addition to encouraging negative social trends and coping mechanisms.

Drought has so far incurred a loss of 28 trillion rials (about $107 million) to the environment, Hassan Akbari, deputy head of natural environment and biodiversity of the Department of Environment, has said.

Unfortunately, over 70 percent of the country is suffering from severe drought. The severity of the drought is devastating in areas such as the Zagros, which is both a source of water and natural habitats, he lamented.

Droughts may affect three-quarters of the world by 2050

The United Nations has warned that droughts may affect over three-quarters of the world’s population by 2050.

Droughts are among the greatest threats to sustainable development, especially in developing countries, but increasingly so in developed nations too.

The number and duration of droughts have increased by 29 percent since 2000, as compared to the two previous decades (WMO 2021). When more than 2.3 billion people already face water stress, this is a huge problem. More and more of us will be living in areas with extreme water shortages, including an estimated one in four children by 2040 (UNICEF). No country is immune to drought (UN-Water 2021).

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