“We have much to say – much to share – about our suffering,” said Mohammad, a middle-aged man dressed in a loose shalwar kameez.
For many like him, various UN-supported programmes are bringing the promise of hope and new beginnings.
Accompanied by his 11-year-old daughter, Motahar, Mohammad explained some of the personal effects the project has had on his family, friends and neighbours. He told his story at a ceremony organized by the Iran Government’s Forests, Range and Watershed Organization (FRWO) to commemorate world day to combat desertification, which is annually held on June 17 each year.
“There were workers in our communities who would go to neighboring provinces for work. Because of the distance, they would stay for nine months and only return home for winter,” recalled Mohammad, whose weathered face told of years of hard work under the blazing sun of eastern Iran.
“Since the tree-planting project began in our villages, we plant – the project-supplied – trees until three o’clock. Then we go on to plant date-trees for ourselves. In 5 to 10 years, we will become independent and able to stand on our own feet.”
The theme for this year’s ceremony was “Don’t Let Our Future Dry Up”, and included speeches by Mr. Mohammadizadeh, Iran’s Vice-President and head of Department of Environment, Mr. Urangi, Director of FRWO, Mr. Gary Lewis, United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, Dr. Noureddin Mona, FAO Representative.
Mr. Lewis highlighted issues related to desertification and droughts as serious future threats to human security around the globe. “Simply put, drought devastates people’s lives. I personally believe that it is one of the main human security challenges of the future,” said Mr. Lewis.
Mr. Lewis further underlined three overlapping issues as the sources of desertification; reduced rainfall and rising temperatures, which – inevitably – result in less agriculture.
“What is certainly required is to restore – across the planet – millions and millions of hectares of degraded lands. This can only happen if governments, international organizations, businesses, communities and environmental conservation groups come together and work out a solid agenda for action and change,” added Mr. Lewis.
The FAO Representative, Mr. Mona also pointed out the importance of the threat caused by desertification while strongly emphasizing the need for a collective response. “The key fact is that no single endeavor can provide an appropriate response to this ever-increasing challenge. There is a need for a real collective intervention by all relevant entities - including UN agencies and government bodies - if we want to mitigate adverse impacts of this phenomenon,” said Mr. Mona.
Another important issue mentioned by all dignitaries and experts was the regional dust and sandstorm phenomenon that remains as a serious cross-border problem for Iran.
“The main source of [regional dust and sand storms] is Iraq in the first place, then Syria and Jordan. It is important that these countries agree on a common framework. At this point, the Islamic Republic of Iran has only been able to convince Iraq to get engaged on the issue with the help of the United Nations,” said Mr. Mohammadizadeh, Vice President in charge of Environment.
Iran is seriously being impacted by sand storms from western neighbors, with effects on some of the most primary human needs such as good health, infrastructure, ecosystems and livelihoods.
Internally, UNDP and FAO are working closely with the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to reforest dry areas in South Khorassan and Kerman provinces.
UNDP Carbon Sequestration project has expanded its activities and its latest phase includes planning to reforest 70,000 hectares in the district of Malard, Tehran.
Towards the end of the ceremony the 11-year-old Motahar took center stage, and read from a crumpled-up piece of paper which she held in her tiny hands. She thanked all who were a part of the project that has had such a huge impact on her life. “I am grateful because last year we did not imagine to be studying in a proper school; because we had to study in a school with a cracked ceiling, and would study outside in the sand storm in fear of an earthquake. Because of the storms, we could not even get the tents up,” said Motahar, “I thank you because my father does not have to go away for work anymore.”