Pistachio nuts are Iran’s largest export, after crude oil. But after years of drought, water shortages are putting nut-farmers’ futures in jeopardy.
Iran’s water crisis is escalating across the board. Iranian environmental policy expert Kaveh Madani says his country is facing ‘water bankruptcy’ after exhausting its surface water supply in rivers and lakes, and depleting its groundwater resources by 70 per cent.
Poor management, an inefficient agricultural sector and rapid population growth are to blame for the water shortage, which is now being compounded by climate change. Desertification threatens to make a number of the nation’s provinces uninhabitable as soon as 2030, according to former agriculture minister Isa Kalantari, potentially displacing millions into already water-stressed, heavily populated areas – unless the government takes urgent action.
In an attempt to allay the crisis, Iran is relying heavily on engineering solutions. The government is planning large-scale projects to transfer desalinated water to drought-affected areas.
One such project will see water pumped from the Caspian Sea to cities via a 460-kilometre underground pipeline. A second aims to secure drinking water for 47 million people by transporting it from the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman.
Environmentalists caution that such projects can damage ecosystems. Brine, a waste product from the desalination process, is already being poured back into the Persian Gulf by several Iranian provinces, changing the marine habitat and risking the livelihoods of local fishers.
Madani believes a more sustainable solution would be to encourage citizens to reduce their water consumption.
Meanwhile, some pistachio farmers are finding innovative solutions to water shortages. Many have diversified their crops, decreased farming areas and are using efficient sprinkler and drip-irrigation techniques.