DOE: Exaggerations unhelpful

A senior official has urged against exaggerating the problems of Sistan-Baluchestan Province, arguing that it shifts attention away from effectively addressing the dust storms crisis.

In a meeting in Tehran to discuss plans to mitigate the impacts of dust and sand storms in the southeastern province, Massoumeh Ebtekar, the head of the Department of Environment, said on Saturday, “Making wild claims and overplaying the problem helps nobody, least of all the people suffering from dust storms.”

Ebtekar stressed that addressing the issue requires careful planning, due diligence and cooperation at the highest levels of the government.

Various reports have been circulating about the impacts of sandstorms in the drought-stricken province, with the most recent one claiming that a whopping 400 villages “have been buried under sand”, which a senior provincial official rejected.

“It’s simply not true,” said the governor general of the province, Ali Owsat Hashemi. “We need to focus on providing people with special privileges, such as giving them tax breaks and further subsidizing water and electricity bills to alleviate their suffering.”

Iran’s 15-year battle with drought, exacerbated by wasteful farming practices, injudicious water use and gross mismanagement, has taken a heavy toll on the country’s wetlands, turning them into vast plains of dried-up soil that is easily picked up by strong winds that frequently hammer Sistan-Baluchestan.

Foreign Sources
Jazmourian, nestled between Kerman and Sistan-Baluchestan, and the Hamouns—shared between Afghanistan and Iran—have become major sources of dust and sand storms in Iran, but officials are adamant that the bulk of particulate matter found in the province’s air is blown over the border from Afghanistan.

“There is no doubt that the main source of the sandstorms lies beyond our borders,” Ziaeddin Shojaei, the head of DOE’s taskforce to combat dust storms, was quoted as saying by the local media.

Steps have been taken to fill up Jazmourian and Hamoun wetlands, with the latter receiving most of the attention due to its massive size.

Earlier this month, nearly 20 million cubic meters of water were released into the Hamouns.

In April, the provincial office of DOE said it was going to bring down the central levee on the Hamouns to allow water to flow more freely into the desiccating wetlands—a part of a comprehensive scheme drawn up by the Conservation of Iranian Wetlands Project to help revive the once-thriving wetlands.

The official said his taskforce will have a plan tailored to battle dust storms in the province “within two months”, adding that they have already taken measures to help reduce the impacts of the phenomenon.

“We’ve installed dust filters on [evaporative] coolers across the province with encouraging results and have distributed masks among people,” Shojaei said.

However, Saeed Motessadi, deputy for human environments at the DOE, said the masks “are incapable of filtering PM2.5 particles, rendering them useless … That money is better spent on implementing more effective measures”.

Need to Do More

Ebtekar declared that the government and all relevant bodies heavily involved in addressing dust storms have carried out their tasks to the best of the abilities, but a lot more needs to be done.

“Every entity has performed the tasks they were assigned to the extent that their budget allowed, but it’s quite simply not enough,” she said.

Iran has accused Afghanistan of failing to uphold the water rights of the Hamoun Wetlands, and officials, including Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, insist that the revival of the imperiled wetlands is the primary topic of discussion in every meeting with Afghan officials.

Ebtekar said Afghan President Ashraf Ghani “is set to form a joint workgroup to help replenish the wetlands”.

To attract global attention to the dire state of the wetlands and secure funds from international organizations, Iran is planning to nominate the Hamouns to UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Program.

During the second UN Environment Assembly in Kenya on May 23-27, a resolution proposed by Iran and backed by Pakistan and Iraq that aims to enlist the aid of Middle East countries to tackle dust storms in the region was approved.

“Dust storms are a regional problem and international aid is necessary to help address it,” Ebtekar said.

By Financial Tribune