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Iran Faces Dangerous Water Crisis as Temperatures Rise, Are the People to Blame?

Jun 03, 2014 02:50 PM EDT

As summer presses on and temperatures rise, water scarcity in Iran is becoming a national emergency.

Iran is facing a critical shortage of water as arid temperatures rise with the encroaching summer season. According to Future Directions International (FDI), an independent strategic analysis group based in Australia, the country of Iran began to experience notable water supply drops in 2013, with lower-than-average precipitation levels leaving the great majority of the region's dams and waterways under desired capacity.

Exacerbating this shortage problem, the region is traditionally dry and arid, regularly putting water supplies at risk during the hotter seasons, with an estimated 70 percent of precipitation lost to evaporation.

Just Emptied Out

In 2013, the Iranian government called for greater water conservation efforts, worried that changing airways associated with global climate change would result in even more arid conditions in the coming years.

Now, as of May 2014, several major bodies of water in the region have all but dried up, including the Zayandehrood River and Orumieh Lake, according to Payvand Iran News.

The New York Times reported earlier this year that Lake Urmia, one Iran's largest Great Lakes, currently holds only five percent of the water it held several years ago, with the majority of lakebed now baking in the hot sun.

This was once a massive lake that regularly hosted party boats full of tourists hoping to see the massive flocks of flamingos the spot was once famous for.

"Only some years ago the water here was 30 feet deep," Iranian Hamid Ranaghadr told Times reporters. "We just emptied it out."

On May 4, Iranian Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian told local media that the situation was "worse than critical," warning that water shortages could severely affect more than half of Iran's population.

The People Problem

According to FDI, the water crisis in Iran is a two pronged problem. Global climate change - arguably helped along by the country's heavy greenhouse gas emissions - is intensifying the region's already arid climate. The other problem, and what many experts say is the most immediate problem, is the people of Iran themselves.

"Despite imminent shortages, water use in Iran remains inefficient, with domestic use 70 percent higher than the global average," the organization reports.

An estimated 75 million people comprise the Iranian population, and it continues to grow each year. These people are accustomed to yearly water shortages and calls for conservation, but may not be taking the government's warnings seriously enough.

According to a report from the Orsam Water Bulletin, environmental expert Esmail Kahrom in Tehran recently told local media that the only way to truly make Iranians understand that this current water shortage crisis is far more severe than previous ones is to start fining households that exceed their capped water consumption.

"Several years ago there was water rationing. Each day, water would be cut for several hours in different parts of Tehran," Karhom said. "Out of fear of running out of water, people would store so much water [before the scheduled cuts] that their consumption ended up being higher than usual."

Tehran, one of Iran's largest cities, is home to an estimated 22 million people - more than a fourth of the country's total population. Unfortunately, local officials reported that as of May 9 water consumption numbers have reached a new high of 2,992,000 cubic meters.

Back in April, the Iranian Energy Ministry dug new wells all around the Tehran Province, as shrinking water supplies in dams alone could not meet the thirst and irrigation needs of the region. Parviz Kardavani, a renowned environmental expert referred to as the "father of eremology" in Iran, told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) that these wells are simply a temporary fix and will only worsen future water shortages - the region is now consuming far more water than the natural water reservoir can ever hope to replenish in a year's time.

He added that the region of Rafsanjan in the Kerman Province is also over-dug, boasting a whopping 1,300 wells while groundwater levels there can only hope to support 70.

According to FDI, the only hope that Iran has to cull an approaching "perfect storm" of water shortage is to start immediately and aggressively implementing water conservation caps on wasteful residential use while closely monitoring and improving the efficiency of agricultural irrigation systems. Even then, it may be "too little too late."

The Gas Factor

Of course, the other underlying cause to consider is greenhouse gases.

According to a 2013 report released by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Iran emitted an estimated total of 410 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere in 2012 from fossil fuel use and cement production. Some cement production was part of a massive effort by past Iranian presidents to build more dams to support water demand exacerbated by a weakening ozone - sparking an endless cycle. The result is that Iran now boasts more than 500 dams - the third most dams in the world in any one nation, with another 400 under construction.

In the 2010 Second National Iranian Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Mohammad Javad Mohammadizadeh, the head of the Department of Environment in Iran, told world officials that non-energy sector (cement, automobile, etc.) emissions are expected to grow from 100 million metric tons in 2000 to 225 million metric tons in 2025.

This, the report writes, was Iran's greatest threat, making the country's situation very different from greenhouse gas emission leaders such as the United States and China. Just this week, both China and the United States declared that they would be placing hard caps on their own gas emissions, cutting energy use if these emissions cannot be mitigated in other ways.

As for Iran, the report claims, this would have a far lesser impact, and only negatively effect the country's economy, which is heavily dependent on the sale of exported fossil fuels.

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