Tuesday July 16, 2019
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Parched Lands In Iran Sink Due To Bring Hollowed Out By Water Pumping

Iranian authorities have begun to crack down on illegal water wells.

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Fissures appear along roads while massive holes open up in the countryside, their gaping maws a visible sign from the air of something Iranian authorities now openly acknowledge: the area around Tehran is literally sinking.

Stressed by a 30-year drought and hollowed by excessive water pumping, the parched landscape around Iran’s capital has begun to sink dramatically. Seen by satellite and on foot around the city, officials warn that what they call land subsidence poses a grave danger to a country where protests over water scarcity already have seen violence.

“Land subsidence is a destructive phenomenon,” said Siavash Arabi, a measurement expert at Iran’s cartography department. “Its impact may not be immediately felt like an earthquake, but as you can see, it can gradually cause destructive changes over time.”

He said he can identify “destruction of farmland, the cracks of the earth’s surface, damage to civilian areas in cities, wastewater lines, cracks in roads and damages to water and natural gas pipes.”

Tehran, which sits 1,200 meters (3,900 feet) above sea level against the Alborz Mountains on a plateau, has rapidly grown over the last 100 years to a sprawling city of 13 million people in its metropolitan area.

Iran
Iran Drought Through the Years. VOA

All those people have put incredible pressure on water resources on a semi-arid plateau in a country that saw only 171 millimeters (6.7 inches) of rain last year. Over-reliance on ground aquifers has seen increasingly salty water pumped from below ground.

“Surface soil contains water and air. When you pump water from under the ground surface, you cause some empty space to be formed in the soil,” Arabi told The Associated Press. “Gradually, the pressure from above causes the soil particles to stick together and this leads to sinking of the ground and formation of cracks.”

Rain and snow to recharge the underground aquifers have been in short supply. Over the past decade, Iran has seen the most prolonged and severe drought in more than 30 years, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. An estimated 97 percent of the country has faced some level of drought, Iran’s Meteorological Organization says.

That has caused the sinkholes and fissures now seen around Tehran.

Iranian authorities say they have measured up to 22 centimeters (8.6 inches) of annual subsidence near the capital, while the normal range would be only as high as 3 centimeters (1.1 inches) per year.

Even higher numbers have been measured in other parts of the country. Some sinkholes formed in western Iran are as deep as 60 meters (196 feet).

A bicyclist passes the nuclear power plant just outside Bushehr, Iran, Oct. 26, 2010.
A bicyclist passes the nuclear power plant just outside Bushehr, Iran, Oct. 26, 2010, VOA

Those figures are close to those found in a study by scientists at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam previously discussed by the journal Nature and accepted by the journal Remote Sensing of Environment. Using satellite images between 2003 and 2017, the scientists estimate the western Tehran plain is sinking by 25 centimeters (9.8 inches) a year.

Either way, the numbers are alarming to experts.

“In European countries, even 4 millimeters (0.15 inches) of yearly subsidence is considered a crisis,” Iranian environmental activist Mohammad Darvish said.

The sinking can be seen in Tehran’s southern Yaftabad neighborhood, which sits close to farmland and water wells on the edge of the city. Cracks run down walls and below windows, and waterpipes have ruptured. Residents fear poorly built buildings may collapse.

The sinking also threatens vital infrastructure, like Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport. German scientists estimate that land under the airport is sinking by 5 centimeters (1.9 inches) a year.

Tehran’s oil refinery, a key highway, automobile manufacturing plants and railroads also all sit on sinking ground, said Ali Beitollahi, a Ministry of Roads and Transportation official. Some 2 million people live in the area, he said.

Ebola, UNICEF. congo, DNA, water
A boy runs past a dispenser containing water mixed with disinfectant. VOA

Masoud Shafiee, head of Iran’s cartography department, also acknowledged the danger.

“Rates [for subsidence] are very high and in many instances it’s happening in densely populated areas,” Shafiee told the AP. “It’s happening near sensitive infrastructures like airports, which we consider a top priority.”

Geopolitics play a role in Iran’s water crisis. Since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran has sought to become self-sufficient across industries to thwart international sanctions. That has included agriculture and food production.

The problem, however, comes in inefficient water use on farms, which represents over 90 percent of the country’s water usage, experts say.

Already, the drought and water crisis has fed into the sporadic unrest Iran has faced over the last year. In July, protests around Khorramshahr, some 650 kilometers (400 miles) southwest of Tehran, saw violence as residents of the predominantly Arab city near the border with Iraq complained of salty, muddy water coming out of their taps amid the yearslong drought.

Picture o a cemetery in Tehran, Iran. Wikimedia Commons

The unrest there only compounds the wider unease felt across Iran as it faces an economic crisis sparked by President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who long has opposed Iran’s theocratic government, even released an online video in June offering his country’s water technology in a jab at Iran’s leaders.

“The Iranian regime shouts: ‘Death to Israel,'” Netanyahu said. “In response, Israel shouts: ‘Life to the Iranian people.'”

Iranian officials shrugged off the offer. But solutions to the water crisis will be difficult to find.

Also Read: Thousand Of Rohingya Refugees Get Clean Drinking Water, Thanks To Green Technology

The crisis “stems from decades of sanctions and compounding political mismanagement that is likely to make it very difficult to alleviate the emerging crisis before it wreaks lasting damage upon the country,” wrote Gabriel Collins, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute.

Iranian authorities have begun to crack down on illegal water wells. They also are exploring using desalinization plants along the Persian Gulf as well, though they require tremendous energy. Farming practices also need to change as well, experts say.

“We need to shift our development model so that it relies less on water and soil,” Darvish, the activist, said. “If we don’t act quickly to stop the subsidence, it can spread to other areas.”(VOA)

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US Hits Iran with New Sanctions; Petrochemicals Targeted

Washington is pressuring Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile program

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US, Iran, Petrochemicals
FILE - A man walks past the Mahshahr petrochemical plant in Khuzestan province, southwest of Tehran, Iran. VOA

The United States on Friday imposed new sanctions on Iran targeting the country’s petrochemical industry, including its largest petrochemical holding group, over its financial support for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Treasury Department said.

Washington is pressuring Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile program and for waging proxy wars in other Middle Eastern countries. The new measures follow a round of sanctions imposed last month that targeted the Islamic Republic’s export revenues from industrial metals.

Tensions between the two countries worsened last month when the Trump administration ordered the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group, bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East, citing intelligence about possible Iranian preparations to attack U.S. forces or interests.

The Pentagon has also accused the IRGC of being directly responsible for May 12 attacks off the United Arab Emirates coast that damaged two Saudi tankers, an Emirati vessel and a Norwegian tanker.

US, Iran, Petrochemicals
The United States on Friday imposed new sanctions on Iran targeting the country’s petrochemical industry. Pixabay

Friday’s sanctions target Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company (PGPIC) for providing financial support for the economic arm of the IRGC, Iran’s elite military unit in charge of Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

The U.S. Treasury also designated the holding group’s network of 39 subsidiary petrochemical companies and foreign-based sales agents. PGPIC and its subsidiaries hold 40% of Iran’s petrochemical production capacity and are responsible for 50% of Iran’s petrochemical exports, it said.

“By targeting this network we intend to deny funding to key elements of Iran’s petrochemical sector that provide support to the IRGC,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The Treasury statement said Iran’s oil ministry last year awarded the IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbiya, the IRGC’s economic and engineering arm, 10 projects in oil and petrochemical industries worth $22 billion, four times the official budget of the IRGC.

Also Read- U.S. Starts ‘Unwinding’ Turkey from F-35 Program over Russia Defense Deal

President Donald Trump last year pulled out of a 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers to curb its nuclear program in exchange for easing some sanctions, saying it did not go far enough.

The Trump administration has since taken several unprecedented steps to squeeze Iran, such as demanding the world halt all imports of Iranian oil and designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization, which Iran has cast as an American provocation.

U.S. law already punished U.S. persons who deal with the IRGC with up to 20 years in prison because of the group’s designation under the Specially Designated Global Terrorist list, a different sanctions program. (VOA)