The environmental tragedy in the Hamoun wetlands was the focus of attention in a press conference organized by Iran’s Department of Environment today. Hosted by Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Biodiversity, Dr. Ahmad-Ali Keykha, the featured speaker was Mr. Gary Lewis, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative.
Mr. Lewis shared with the media his personal reflections from his recent visit to Hamoun in Sistan and Baluchestan – located in the Southeast of Iran – during which he was accompanied by Dr. Keykha himself.
"When I travelled among the Hamouns, many residents spoke to me and expressed their concerns and frustrations. These people were angry that others had denied them their water – and their livelihoods. They wanted the UN to work with the authorities to help bring their water back” said Mr. Lewis. He said he understood their frustration as the flow of water which used to enter the Hamoun Wetland has stopped. That water – flowing in from Afghanistan to the east – is currently being diverted away both in Afghanistan for agriculture, and then again once it crosses the border into Iran before. On the Iranian side it is diverted into reservoirs.
“Water scarcity – in my opinion – is one of the most important human security threats Iran is facing for the future. Regardless of where one lives in Iran – in the long-term – everyone will be negatively affected by the shortage of water, because where there is no water or lack of water there is no security and thus people feel threatened as a result of which they migrate to other places – in which others already live – and this creates tension.”
Mr. Lewis pointed out that water scarcity is a topic which the Iranian President, Dr. Hassan Rouhani, Dr. Issa Kalantari, former Agriculture Minister and current Adviser to the President, and Mr. Hamid Chitchian, Energy Minister among others have all spoken out prominently on.
He also said that the UN is ready to assist the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to tackle this issue. “We – at the UN – have been encouraged by President Rouhani, Dr. Ebtekar, and Mr. Chitchian’s public statements as well as their ideas which they seek to implement to overcome the environmental challenges and the UN is ready to do its part and assist the government upon their request.”
The UN Resident Coordinator also emphasized the fact that the sanctions imposed on Iran have not – in any way – affected Government of Iran and UN’s partnership in overcoming environmental challenges including saving Iranian wetlands. “As an example, for more than 10 years, together – with the Government of Iran – we have been carrying out the Conservation of Iranian Wetlands Project” he said.
On 18 January, Mr. Lewis will deliver a speech at the Royal Geographical Society in London on Iran’s environmental challenges.