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International Water Day: Invisible Truths About Groundwater in Iran

As the world deals with groundwater as a critical issue, the authorities in Iran continue destroying this natural resource due to their mismanagement and profiteering policies.

Two and a half years ago—approximately December 2019, no one could have imagined a virus causing a worldwide catastrophe so quickly. At the time, Covid-19’s dimensions and consequences were utterly unknown. However, it shut down schools, cultural events, concerts, and even family visits across six continents within months. On the other hand, face masks, sanitizers, vaccination certificates, gloves, and many hygienic items became an indispensable part of our lives.

Today, in March 2022, Iran faces another hidden truth that may also have a disastrous impact on the country as the pandemic winds down. Many environmental experts believe that groundwater conditions, with this current trend, will bring a bitter, fragile, and catastrophic future to the country.

What Does the ‘Current Trend’ Mean?

On the eve of International Water Day, which has been entitled ‘Groundwater – Making the Invisible Visible,’ it is time to discuss several hidden issues with several numbers:

First Number: 140

In March 2022, Iran deals with 140 billion cubic meters of cumulative tank deficit. Cumulative tank deficit simply means that the country has taken water from more than what had entered underground aquifers. Now, there is a vast and significant debt to these aquifers.

To understand this water scale, we should think of a pool with a 1,000-meter width and a 140-meter depth. The water of this giant pool is equivalent to the country to the underground aquifers.

Notably, owing to Iranian authorities’ mismanagement and profiteering policies, around five billion cubic meters of water is added to this debt every year. This addition did not stop despite massive rainfalls and floods such as in April 2019.

Second Number: 400

The number 400 symbolizes the number of plains that have been prohibited across Iran. ‘Prohibited’ clarifies several parts of the country where rainfalls can no longer supply adequate water for underground aquifers.

Indeed, these plains had been legally banned from digging new wells and extracting water from current wells. However, neither the state beneficiaries nor environmental activists took the threat seriously.

There are more than 600 plains across Iran. Almost the entire country is considered ‘prohibited’ if we subtract those plains located in central deserts or those which people have abandoned due to lack of agricultural and industrial profit.

Nevertheless, the government refuses to ban companies and beneficiaries from digging new wells and extracting further water, resulting in dwindling the level of aquifers water for 50 centimeters every year. This number is much higher in crowded areas like Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad, Tabriz, and Hamedan.

Third Number: 4,000

The number 4,000 is about the quality or salinity index of groundwaters. This number is measured by Micro Siemens per centimeter, μS/cm, which indicates how much water is appropriate regarding the quality and salinity.

In recent years, the number of Iran’s aquifers’ water was on average around 4,000 μS/cm. In the early 1980ies, this number was around a half, i.e., 2,000.

Therefore, the government’s mismanagement decreased the number of aquifers, which supply more than 55 percent of the country’s potable, agricultural, and industrial needs, and have dwindled the quality. Worse, there is no sign of a fundamental approach to resolving this nationwide dilemma.

The Last Number: Four

The last number is quite easy to understand. The number four shows what percentage of the country’s water budget has been spent on the groundwater sector in the past 40 years: only four percent.

This number indicates that decision-makers have totally been ignorant about the importance of groundwater’s impact on the country’s destiny. This number speaks louder than words.

Indeed, these four numbers, besides the number 43—which symbolizes the age of the theocratic tyranny in Iran—are only the tip of the iceberg. The ayatollahs have squandered more than $10 billion on nuclear bomb-making projects yet they claim to seek science and power.

At the same time, Iranian authorities’ destructive policies have ruined the country’s natural resources, putting their survival at risk. As the International Water Association’s annual motto says, “Groundwater is invisible, but its impact is visible everywhere.” The people of Iran feel the dangerous impacts of groundwater shortages such as subsidence across the country.

This is only another horrible consequence of a theocratic regime that lines its pockets with the benefits of natural resources. However, Iranians have unequivocally demonstrated their determination to save their country, future, and environment at all costs, which is vividly seen in ongoing protests by different walks of life, particularly farmers.

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