By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
Several bodies of water in Iran have either shrunk or dried up as the result of drought and water diverted for agricultural purposes. (file photo)
Negin (not her real name) is doing her part to avert a major water shortage in Tehran this summer.
The 35-year-old mother of two is taking official calls to be economical when it comes to water use -- and warnings that supplies in the Iranian capital could be restricted if the calls are not heeded -- very seriously.
"If I have dirty water from washing the clothes, I use it to wash the floors," she says. "I've also taught my children to be mindful of their water usage when they brush their teeth."
Negin does what she can to conserve water, but she wonders if it is a futile exercise.
"Most people waste water," she says of her fellow Tehran residents. "Just the other day I saw a man washing the sidewalk in front of his house and letting water run from the hose."
Warnings about water shortages are nothing new to Iranians, whose country is located in an arid and semi-arid region with little rainfall and frequent droughts.
This year, however, officials have said the problem is particularly dire, warning that water shortages could affect up to half of the country's population of 75 million.
Climate change, population growth, mismanagement, wasteful irrigation practices, and the depletion of groundwater resources are among the reasons cited for the worsening situation not just in Tehran, but throughout Iran.
Worse Than Critical
Several bodies of water, including the Zayandehrood River and Orumieh Lake, have either shrunk or dried up as the result of drought and water diverted for agricultural purposes.
On May 4, Iranian Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian was quoted by the state media as saying that water resources were in a condition that was worse than critical.
Addressing parliament, Chitchian said Iran's renewable water resources had decreased over the past 10 years from 130 billion cubic meters to 120 billion.
He lamented that Iranians consume 80 percent of the country's renewable water resources annually. Whereas "60 percent" is considered critical," he said, "we consume 20 percent more than what is in the world considered a [water] crisis."
Water shortage - cartoon by Javad Takjou, Etemaad daily
In an effort to prevent the situation from worsening, officials have told residents in Tehran and other major cities to cut back on water use.
On May 14, Tehran's governor, Hossein Hashemi, warned that if citizens in the Iranian capital did not reduce their water consumption by 20 percent, water cuts and water rationing would be imposed.
In early April, the CEO of Tehran's regional water company, Khosro Erteqai, announced a "sharp drop" in water levels at two major reservoirs serving Tehran's metropolitan area, which has a population of about 22 million.
He warned that if citizens in the provinces of Tehran and Alborz did not cut back on consumption, authorities would be forced to reduce water pressure in pipelines to reduce supplies.
Deputy Energy Minister Rahim Meydani has warned that Tehran, along with 10 major cities including Isfahan, Shiraz, and Yazd, are at risk of water shortages.
Consumption Still Soaring
Yet the warnings have apparently not had much effect on water usage.
The official news agency IRNA reported on May 14 that water consumption in the Iranian capital had already hit a one-day high for the year.
"Unfortunately, based on released figures, on Friday, May 9, water consumption in Tehran hit a record and reached 2,992,000 cubic meters," the agency wrote. "It marks a new record in water consumption from the beginning of the current [Iranian] year."
The report said that the figure marked an 8 percent increase from the same day a year ago.
Tehran-based environmental expert and university professor Esmail Kahrom told RFE/RL that authorities should introduce fines for households with high water consumption.
"Several years ago there was water rationing [in Tehran]. Each day, water would be cut for several hours in different parts of Tehran," Karhom says. "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."
Professor Kahrom says a national-awareness campaign is needed for Iranians to realize the seriousness of the situation.
"The only way to cope with this crisis is through rationing and serious limitations [on water use]," he adds. "Authorities should [also] demonstrate to the people that we really don't have water."
Kahrom says a balance should be created between consumption and the country's available water resources.
Fatemeh Zafarnejad, an environmental researcher in Tehran, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that only "national resolve" can help solve the water crisis.
"We should take the water issue much seriously because it will cause a huge crisis," Zafarnejad said. "By introducing changes in water management we should be able to overcome the problem."
Gary Lewis, the United Nations resident coordinator in Iran, has called water management one of Iran's biggest environmental challenges.
Negin, meanwhile, says she's hoping to see a change in people's attitudes when it comes to conservation.
"I hope people start to realize that it's up to us to change our habits and be more mindful of the environment," she says.
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