Drought-stricken Iran plans major water export project

Published June 20th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Iran is suffering from its fourth consecutive year of drought and has begun water rationing in several provinces and cities, but it is still planning to export fresh water to Kuwait in a move that has disturbed commentators. 


The London-based multinational group Gulf Utilities told AFP Monday, June 18, that the two-billion-dollar pipeline project approved by the Kuwaiti cabinet would bring water from the Karkeh dam in western Iran. 


The pipeline would convey the water some 330 kilometers (200 miles) across Iran and a further 210 kilometers under the Gulf to Kuwait, avoiding Iraqi territory. 


News of the agreement comes just as Iranian officials and state media are warning of nation-wide water rationing if consumers fail to economize and make optimum use of the nation's water resources. 


Deputy energy minister Qolam-Reza Manuchehri on Monday said water scarcity in Iran had reached "a critical state," adding that consumers would have to take the issue "seriously" in order to "fight the crisis." Shortages were serious in eight of Iran's 28 provinces, affecting the lives of some 25 million people. 


"The provinces of Tehran, Kerman, Sistan-Baluchistan, Bushehr, Isfahan, Khorassan, Fars and Semnan are facing a serious lack of water," he said. 


Meanwhile the head of Tehran's water resources company was quoted as saying that if water consumption rates remained high, officials would also have to commence water rationing in the capital within three weeks. "A 15 percent reduction in water consumption is a very serious request to consumers," said Satar Mahmoudi. 


The government-run Iran paper said officials would also begin fining citizens who consume more than 20 cubic meters (20,000 liters) of water per month, as of June 22. 


Water rationing began in the southern provinces of Bushehr and Sistan-Baluchistan last week, and on Sunday state radio reported that it had been extended to the cities of Mashhad in the northeast and Hamedan in the west. 


Nevertheless, Gulf Utilities spokesman Byron Ousey told AFP Monday that "Iran has an abundance of water which has been carefully trapped, so this could be the forerunner of other projects." 


The reformist Mellat paper Tuesday called the news of such a major deal as "interesting" considering that 60 percent of the water resources in the eastern Kerman province had dried out, while the Karaj dam, the main water-provider for Tehran province, has 64.1 percent less water than last year. 


The daily Iran News criticized the government for failing to take adequate measures to conserve water, saying that deals such as that with Kuwait were alarming. 


But Reza Bakhtiari, an official from Iran's energy ministry, brushed off any concerns over water scarcity, at least in the province of Khuzistan which is to supply Kuwait with water. "In any case, the project is merely theoretical," Bakhtiari said, adding that "if we have a water problem, we won't realize the project." 


According to Gulf Utilities, preliminary contracts with Iran and Kuwait will be signed within the next six months. The pipeline, which will cost about two billion dollars (€2.3 billion) to build, will be completed in 2005, it added. 


In 1999 and 2000, Iran suffered its worst drought period in more than 30 years, with the United Nations warning of a human catastrophe if aid was not delivered. According to official estimates, last year's drought cost Iran some $3.5 billion. ― (AFP, Tehran) 


by Sohrab Morovati 


© Agence France Presse 2001

© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)

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