When rivers cease to flow

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Friday, 29 June, 2001, 21:09 GMT 22:09 UK

When rivers cease to flow

Iran is facing a third year of drought

By BBC Monitoring's Saeed Barzin The summer is hot, the dams are empty - thousands of Iranian villagers are abandoning their homes and millions of city dwellers are learning to live without running water for up to 18 hours a day.

Officials have warned the situation could get worse if the drought continues and current water consumption levels are not reduced.

Rain comes not from the sky, neither do the lamentations of the suffering reach to heaven 13th century poet, Sa'di Shirazi

Almost half of the country's 28 provinces are affected. Iranian newspapers have reported that in the southern port of Bushehr, where temperatures soar beyond 40 C in the summer months, water is being rationed for 5.5 hours a day.

In some neighbourhoods of Tehran, a city of 12 million people, there is no water in the pipes for up to 12 hours a day. In the ancient city of Esfahan children play on the dry beds of the once roaring Zayanderud river.

The government is encouraging people to reduce consumption. It holds water-conservation projects and imposes fines for households with high water usage.

Water leaks are politically sensitive

Iranian television and radio have been broadcasting daily reports on the drought and rationing, and calling on the people to conserve water.

As with all the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa, Iranians have known drought for many centuries. Schoolchildren learn by heart poems by the 13th century poet Sa'di Shirazi on water shortage and famine.

In everyday life ordinary people are patient but not always restrained. Mahnaz Mostafavi told the BBC: "I try to use less water. But some people use a lot. They just waste it. We will feel the impact soon."


Things related to water become politicized easily. When recently the conservative-controlled television wanted to put pressure on the pro-reform government of Mohammad Khatami, it showed leaks in water pipes as a sign of the administration's incompetence.

Similarly, hardline newspapers gave front page coverage to reports that Iran was to export 760 million litres of water a day to neighbouring Kuwait. The minister of energy quickly denied the existence of the project.

An analyst with the Water Organization has suggested that the country may have to import water from its northern neighbour, Russia, to deal with the crisis, the Iranian news agency IRNA reported.

Last year the drought destroyed an estimated 2.8 million tonnes of wheat and 280,000 tonnes of barley, and killed 800,000 heads of livestock, IRNA added.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), June 29, 2001

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