Financial Tribune- The government has earmarked $100 million to combat dust storms in the next fiscal year that begins on March 21.
The money, which will be supplied from the National Development Fund of Iran, will be used to implement key projects such as reforestation, mulching and revival of wetlands and rivers that have become major hotspots for sand and dust storms, also known as SDS.
The news comes on the heels of recent reports that the embattled Khuzestan Province in southwest Iran is besieged by intense dust storms that have disrupted life in the oil-rich province.
Dust storm hotspots cover around 300,000 hectares of Khuzestan, while Deputy Agriculture Minister Abdolmehdi Bakhshandeh said some 700,000 hectares “have the potential to become hotspots”, ISNA reported.
He said 345,000 hectares have been prioritized for reforestation projects.
“About 43,000 hectares are believed to be in a supercritical condition,” he said.
Bakhshandeh noted that a comprehensive plan outlining measures to be implemented across 700,000 hectares of potential hotspots will be presented to the government in three months.
In the past month, storms knocked out power grids in many cities and forced the closure of schools and public offices, and filled emergency rooms with young and old suffering from breathing difficulties.
While the budget of $100 million is about a quarter of what experts say is needed to effectively tackle dust storms sourced in Iran, what worries environmentalists is that the administration of President Hassan Rouhani might not be able to come up with the money.
Environmental projects rarely receive all the budget they are promised. Even publicized restoration programs such as that of Urmia Lake in the northwest do not get the funding they need.
Nevertheless, Mohammad Baqer Nobakht, a vice president and head of the Management and Planning Organization, promised last week that “the government will supply the budget to the last dime”.
Although about 75% of dust storm emissions worldwide come from natural (as opposed to manmade) sources, the vast majority of hotspots that contribute to SDS in Iran and the Middle East at large are caused by human activities.
Turkey’s rampant dam construction since the 1970s has significantly cut water flow to Iraq and Syria, leading to the desiccation of key rivers and marshlands.
To make matters worse, the internal conflict in Syria and Iraq’s battle with the terrorist group Daesh (aka the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group) have knocked out environmental issues in these countries from the list of priorities.
In Khuzestan, local land degradation driven by unsustainable development has led to large swathes of the province becoming major contributors to dust storms.
Outdated oil extraction methods and failure to uphold the water rights of wetlands have led to the drying up of major rivers and marshlands in the province.
Mohammad Darvish, an official at the Department of Environment, believes blaming Khuzestan’s predicament on sources of SDS in neighboring countries is an excuse.
“The province has been grappling with dust storms regularly for the past 15 years, but they’ve only become frequent and intense in the past three years, thanks to local sources created by us,” he said.