TEHRAN, 29 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - The Iranian government has recently signed a project with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to help it tackle the depletion of land and water resources by adopting community-based methods.
The project was signed between the Forests, Rangelands and Watershed Management Organisation (FRWO) and the UNDP.
Talking to reporters after signing the project, FRWO deputy Dr Foroud Sharifi said that he hoped the project would be replicated throughout the country.
The Hable-Rud basin, a 1.2 million ha hydrological basin in the provinces of Tehran and Semnan will be used as a pilot for strengthening the sustainable management of the country's land and water resources.
This is the second phase of the Sustainable Management of Land and Water Resources in Hable-Rud Basin Project. The project is worth US $8.2 million and was launched in 1997.
Saeid Ferdowsi, UNDP project officer, said the main challenge the project faced during its inception was that the 'three pillars of sustainable development' - environment, society and economics - were not properly integrated by relevant government bodies.
Deforestation, droughts and floods have plagued Iran's forests and grazing lands, which are now in rapid decline, with the problem further compounded by mismanagement. Agriculture ministry officials estimate that up to one third of Iran's water is wasted due to poor usage.
Also to blame is a lack of watershed management. A watershed is the area around a river or tributary that feeds into it. If the water streams through too quickly, it picks up sediment and does not settle into surrounding soil, impeding plant growth and eroding the land. However, measures can be taken to reverse these effects. If grazing land is restricted, for example, plant life is able to grow, preventing soil erosion.
The project aims to make water and land usage more efficient by encouraging locals to participate in managing water and land resources.
"The project has to do with the different aspects of natural resources, like the way the water resources are being used and the way people use agricultural techniques, the way you address the indigenous knowledge of local people and the establishment and strengthening of the local community," explained Ferdowsi.
The UNDP officer said that the project would empower local communities and would also establish community groups, offering training on how to organise their associations, how to use loans and grants, and how to work together as a group with shared interests.
"Our approach is to make people part of the decision-making process," said Ferdowsi. "It's for the people by the people," he said.
Ferdowsi maintained that urbanisation, population growth, dams and new technology had obliterated indigenous local methods of sustaining scarce water supplies, which relied on strict allocation of water for different uses, such as drinking and agriculture.
Some officials have recently said that Iran may have to turn to traditional agricultural techniques to preserve its limited water supplies.
With only 230 mm of rainfall a year, Iran has less than a third of the global average. Yet Iranians have farmed the land for thousands of years using ancient irrigation systems. Water channels known as qanats tap into underground reservoirs and can carry water along an underground network of channels for thousands of kms, from the foothills of mountains though deserts.
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