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Water resources and environmental justice in developing countries; Iran

Ehsan Danshvar: The words justice, environment, and water resources are individually popular in Iran, but if we combine them to create environmental justice for water resources, do we still get the same attention?

Is this combination of everyday words used by researchers and professors in the fields of environment and water resources?

The majority of Iran is classified as arid and semiarid climates, and along with other Middle Eastern countries, the most water shortage problem is seen in this region. The Middle East is home to 3.6% of the world's population but has access to only 1.4% of the world's renewable freshwater. This means droughts reduce access to safe water and increase food insecurity, growing poverty, and the loss of inhabitants. An increase of salinity in water resources is the direct effect of drought where corrupted countries with insufficient infrastructures and poor management of water and agriculture ultimately experience environmental inequality.

Two groundwater studies on the Karun and Karkheh catchments found that the salinity of groundwater in all the plains within these two catchments after the construction of the main dams have increased over time. The main reason is the reduction of water flow in the Karun and Karkheh rivers downstream of dams. Now, if we are in a period of drought due to a lack of rainfall, water flow upstream of dams will be greatly reduced and the possibility of storing water behind the dam and releasing downstream streams will be increasingly disrupted.

The construction of large dams and lack of proper management of water resources destroys the water quality of groundwater and surface waters. This has, in turn, brought damage to urban and rural residents who are living in the region and their agriculture and livestock. At the same time, residents of other parts of the country, without paying direct costs, benefit from the development plans of these dams and the irrigation and electricity networks. This example also applies to the presence of steel, petrochemical, and refinery industries and oil and gas transport lines, as people living close to these plants experience greater pollution levels in soil, air, and water than those living farther away. Therefore, these residents are more susceptible to various pollution-related diseases, while individuals living farther away benefit from the presence of these plants without being directly exposed to environmental damage to the water sources they use. To gain an understanding of the impact of pollution on communities of lower socioeconomic status, the United Nations and several academic institutions have conducted research on children in the suburbs of developing countries. The results revealed that the rate of lack of learning and academic failure in children aged 7-12 years, and growth disorders in children aged 3-7 years are directly related to increased salinity of drinking water.

Water tensions continue to increase, impacting poverty rates and social inequality which will result in more severe discrimination in access to water resources. These water tensions are a consequence of mismanagement, lack of effective planning on sustainable development, lack of planning to increase resilience, and adaptation of communities to mitigate the risks of climate change impact, especially in the eastern, southern, and southwestern regions of the country. There is a clear link between poor management in environmental activities with unrest and ethnic tensions in communities that do not have adequate water. Ehsan Daneshvar is the director of Future GeoScience and a senior lecturer at the University of Marine Science and Technology. Illustration: Touka Neyestani


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