Heavy rainfall in the past few weeks may have done little in the way of alleviating Iran’s looming water crisis, with experts predicting that the country’s water scarcity will hit crisis level by 2025, when available renewable water will be less than 1,000 cubic meters per capita, down from 2,000 cubic meters in 1950.
“The average annual precipitation in Iran is 366 billion cubic meters; however, evaporation, run-off and infiltration (into the soil) leave 115 billion cubic meters of renewable water,” said Jahangir Habibi, the deputy for conservation and exploitation at Iran’s Water Resources Management Company, as quoted by the news website Jam-e-Jam Online.
The official lamented the sorry state of the country’s groundwater resources, which are mostly used to irrigate farms and supply potable water.
“Our aquifers have lost 109 billion cubic meters of water in the past 37 years,” Habibi said, adding that most of it was lost in the past 17 years.
He blamed the fast-depleting groundwater levels on heavy withdrawal, ineffective policies, unsustainable farming and perennial droughts, and said, “The number of wells in recent years has jumped from 40,000 to 170,000.”
As high as domestic water use may be, it pales in comparison to the amount of water used in agriculture. Iran’s wasteful farming practices gobble up over 90% of the water resources, with a mere 30% return.
“Dwindling water resources has forced us to increase the number of plains in which water withdrawal is forbidden from 15 in 1968 to 320 now,” the official said.
Furthermore, a 40% drop in groundwater discharge — the volumetric flow rate of groundwater through an aquifer — over the past 10 years has led to the deterioration of water quality, land subsidence, gardens and farms drying up, and migration from rural to urban areas.
According to Isa Kalantari, advisor to First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri on environmental affairs, prolonged drought and extreme water stress could displace 50 million Iranians unless swift action is taken to curb the impact.
Based on the norms of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, any country with per capita water consumption of 1000-1700 cubic meters will face water tension in the long run. While the figure for the northwestern regions of Iran, central Iran and northern provinces stands at 400, 300, and 500 cubic meters respectively, western regions as well as some northern provinces use between 1500-1800 cubic meters per capita.
This means Iran has exhausted more than 75% of its water resources, well above the limit of 40%, leading to water crisis.
However, not all is grim: Habibi said precipitation has increased by 59% since the beginning of the current water year (starting September 23) compared to the same period of last year and noted that 42% more water has flown into reservoirs.
Pointing to the declining quality of groundwater reserves, the official said the Energy Ministry has a number of projects in the pipeline that aim to improve groundwater quality, raise groundwater levels, and monitor water consumption in cooperation with other authorities, namely the Ministry of Agriculture Jihad.
“The end goal of these plans is to replenish 500 million cubic meters of groundwater in the first year, 5.7 million cubic meters in the first five years, and 130 million cubic meters in 15 years,” he said.