United Nations Technical Mission on the drought situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran
a. Main findings
A severe drought in 1999 followed by an extreme drought in 2000 has proved to be a disastrous combination for the I.R. of Iran. The worst in 30 years, the drought has seriously affected 18 of the country’s 28 provinces, mostly in southern, eastern and central Iran.
According to some estimates, all but the 3 northern provinces are experiencing a shortage of drinking water. Some 37 million people, or more than 50% of the population, are affected by the drought to varying degrees.
The drought disaster is placing an extreme strain on water resources, drinking water supply systems, livestock and agriculture. It is the cause of great hardship and human suffering, impacting vulnerable groups, particularly in rural areas, who have no alternative source of income and are still feeling the heavy losses they incurred last year.
The drought has adversely affected nearly all drinking water supply systems in both rural and urban areas. In over 70% of rural areas, the flow of water has been disrupted to varying degrees - from moderate to severe. Almost 80% of drinking-water wells suffer from low water yield, a drop in the water table, intrusion of salt water, or complete dryness.
National health authorities are carefully monitoring the health situation. Any epidemic or unusual occurrence of disease in drought-affected areas is diligently checked, particularly for cholera (Eltor). No major health concern of large proportion has thus far been detected. However, as serious water shortages and other drought-related conditions are likely to worsen, a favorable environment for sudden outbreaks of diarrhoeal and communicable diseases could be expected.
As the drought continues, affected population’s dependency on mobile and stationary water tankers will increase dramatically. In spite of efforts made by the authorities, the supply of water to open-air reservoirs by mobile-tankers increases the risk of water contamination.
The drought has caused agricultural losses of 2.8 million tons in wheat and 280,000 tons in barley, with an attendant loss of stubble as fodder resources. Areas normally sown to Alfalfa for hay for use by returning nomadic stocks are now almost non-existent.
The drought is severely impacting the number and productivity of commonly held livestock. This situation will worsen by early 2001, even with the advent of normal rain in November. Over 200,000 nomadic livestock herders have lost and are continuing to lose their only source of livelihood. Unless immediate measures are taken to arrest this loss, this population may be displaced.
The effects of drought on the livestock population will be felt beyond the immediate six months. An estimated 800,000 small animals have died already of malnutrition and disease, and further deaths from starvation and dehydration will occur during the short term. The loss in reproduction among the surviving stock this year will impact household returns. The loss of breeding females, both from private herds and the national inventory, will be felt for several years after the drought has broken.
The drought is producing a spectrum of serious negative impacts, and taking a tremendous toll on the environment. This disaster is affecting both human and natural environment. Many lakes and wetlands of international significance for waterfowl, registered sites protected by the Ramsar Convention, are severely damaged. Several of them have dried up completely.
If the current drought persists and the situation deteriorates, increased movement of displaced persons towards Iran can be expected. In particular, drought-affected populations from Afghanistan may cross the Iranian border in large numbers. These displaced villagers, who come to Iran in search of water and pasture, are considered drought victims and not refugees. This eventuality is a matter of serious concern for the Iranian authorities, a number of UN agencies, and the international community.
With the acute water shortage, it is estimated that over 60% of the rural population may be forced to migrate to cities. The migration may put city-dwellers that are susceptible to disease, especially children at much higher risk. Unable to afford the expenses associated with medical care, some people are forgoing it altogether. This forced rural-urban migration could have serious social, economic, political and environmental ramifications.
The overall drought situation in Iran may further worsen in the months to come, as summer temperatures continue to rise and rain is not expected until November. The enormous scope of the drought disaster is overwhelming the Government’s capabilities and resources, which are already over-stretched.
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