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The need to revive Iran’s aqueducts

Mankind has been trying for thousands of years to find ways to survive and thrive in the desert.

Mankind has been trying for thousands of years to find ways to survive and thrive in the desert. The key to survival in these areas is water. The secret to surviving on dry land lies in one of two ways: Humans either settle in areas close to water, or bring water to their habitat.

More than a quarter of the entire territory of Iran is covered by two deserts without water and grass. But the ancient Iranians were among the first to find a way to overcome the water challenge where people wanted to live. Their solution was to create a unique, environmentally friendly network to transport groundwater to residential areas across the desert, and to invent an aqueduct.

 

The basis of the aqueduct system is based on two elements: Underground waterways and gravity. The Iranians have maintained and expanded these networks for more than 3,000 years, but the importance of the aqueduct is increasing because we have to reduce the pressure on nature as much as possible and adapt ourselves to its contents. Climatological knowledge (much of which is the product of the efforts of Iranian officials) predicts that Iran will face hotter and drier climates in the future. More heat – which we are already seeing all over Iran – will lead to more evaporation. With less water available, food security and, with it, human security, will become more fragile and vulnerable.

Groundwater supplies more than 60% of all water consumption in Iran. Aqueducts make up 10 percent or one-sixth of this amount. The total length of the network of more than 32 thousand ancient aqueducts of Iran is an astonishing 400 thousand kilometers; Equivalent to eight times the length of the Earth’s equator. The total length of the network of more than 32 thousand ancient aqueducts of Iran is an astonishing 400 thousand kilometers; Equivalent to eight times the length of the Earth’s equator. The aqueduct is of great value in two important respects.

First, increase the proper and efficient use of water. In hot and relatively water-scarce areas such as Iran, evaporation is a major challenge in water management and consumption. Preserving groundwater at the same time as collecting it over a large area, and then transferring it directly to the consumer’s home, is an important contribution to the aqueduct in terms of sustainable development. This important fact becomes clear when we consider that the average total water produced by Iran is 411 billion cubic meters per year. The government estimates that 68% of this amount (281 billion cubic meters) will simply evaporate. In fact, many of our current water management infrastructure (ie, dams and waterways) expose it to such evaporation. The second is the proper and efficient use of energy. Iran is estimated to be the seventh largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. However, simple, seemingly insignificant, but in fact huge and very useful aqueducts use only gravity to bring water to the homes of consumers. Other methods of extracting groundwater use large amounts of energy. The energy consumption of aqueducts is limited in two ways: First, the human workforce needed to build and maintain these vast networks — honoring and honoring the willpower of our ancestors and their courage — has been around for thousands of years. Second is the thought-provoking force used to design and build this admirable underground structure, another point that deserves to be honored and paid tribute to the genius and initiative of our ancestors. These are the two factors that have been recognized in the awarding of the FAO GIAHS Award to Iran. In this way, aqueducts contribute to environmental security and sustainable human development in effective and powerful ways. Unfortunately, in many parts of Iran, the proper use of traditional aqueducts is being lost. In the past, aqueducts provided 9 billion cubic meters of water. This figure has dropped to seven billion cubic meters in recent times.

What are the reasons for this significant reduction in the use of aqueducts for water supply? The answer is simple. In order to meet the growing demand for water, abundant groundwater extraction has been done using modern machinery. This led to the almost complete obsolescence of Iran’s older and more stable groundwater abstraction system. Over the centuries, aqueducts have been supplying water to consumers gradually – and in a sustainable and sustainable way – from groundwater aquifers.

 

While these modern methods of water extraction have been increasingly used to meet the agricultural needs and growing population of Iran, which has more than doubled in the last thirty years. Saving the aqueduct system is not only an essential means of preserving Iran’s engineering history, but also a vital means of delivering water to the arteries of Iranian society. This problem is severe in many areas, but extremely acute in Mashhad. A few months ago, when I visited this important religious and cultural center, water engineers informed me that the level of the aquifer of the Kashafrud River (which also includes Mashhad) was declining by an astonishing 1.2 meters per year. This is a direct result of the irregular withdrawal of water from the above aquifer. This crisis is not limited to Mashhad. Hydrological forecasts indicate that – with the continuation of the current consumption ratio – 12 of the 31 provinces of Iran will deplete their groundwater reserves in the next 50 years – perhaps sooner. Unfortunately, many of the current aqueducts are inactive and pose more threats than water scarcity. Passive and abandoned aqueducts have the ability to maintain contamination through water-borne diseases. The presence of these aqueducts also leads to depressions in residential infrastructure, increasing the risk of soil subsidence and subsidence. Reactivating aqueducts can solve some of these problems. Qanats can be part of the solution to the crisis on the eve of Iranian water. Aqueducts can be reactivated to bring water to the surface. It is also vital that passive aqueducts be thoroughly studied and coordinated to help with strategic urban planning.

But even if more aqueducts are activated, Iran still needs to think about using water more efficiently and correctly. According to government figures, about 90 percent of Iran’s water is used for agriculture. But according to the same statistics, only one third of this water is used properly. Then it is time to deal with water as a virtually free commodity in Iran. Setting a fair and deserving price for water will ensure that consumers do not treat water as a free commodity that is lost carelessly. Authorities need to find practical ways to prevent water from being pumped illegally from wells and pumps. Teaching farmers about new methods of farm irrigation management will also have a great impact on solving this problem. Finally, it should be remembered that Iranian aqueducts give a significant message about durability and stability. This is precisely why UNESCO’s International Hydrological Program has recognized the aqueduct system over the past 10 years through its “International Center for Aqueducts and Historic Water Systems” in Yazd, Iran. This is precisely why UNESCO’s International Hydrological Program has recognized the aqueduct system over the past 10 years through its “International Center for Aqueducts and Historic Water Systems” in Yazd, Iran. We cherish another kind of identification today. This time, another agency from the United Nations, the FAO, recognizes the value of the aqueducts. Today, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is adding aqueducts to its World Heritage List. The message of the aqueducts is: “Let’s use the limited natural resources of our vulnerable planet in a sensible and sustainable way.”

* UN Coordinator in Iran