Iran’s Environmentalists Oppose Plan to Take Caspian Seawater to Salty Lowlands

Kayhan London: More than 40 conservationist groups have written to President Hassan Rouhani demanding an immediate stop to a plan to transport water from the Caspian Sea to Dasht-e Kavir (also known as the Great Salt Desert) in central Iran.

The environmentalists have warned that the plan to transfer water from the Caspian Sea to the northern province of Semnan, which has been experiencing water shortage and severe drought for the past few months, would have dire consequences for Iran’s ecology.

“As you know, the Caspian Sea does not hold enough water to supply other parts of the country. Are you pinning your hopes on the Volga River to replenish the Caspian Sea? [Moscow] will most certainly use the river [flowing through central Russia to the Caspian Sea] as leverage to obtain many concessions from Iran,” the letter said.

The letter added: “Ecologists and conservationists have warned that the project would have devastating effects on the Caspian Hyrcanian Mixed Forests [covering about 55,000 square kilometers] in the three coastal provinces [of Gilan, Mazandaran, and Ardabil.] They have also said that the plan will severely impact agricultural and livestock farming.”


Map of the project. Source: Kayhan London

“We urge the government to reconsider the project which will inflict irreparable damage to nearly half of the country. Otherwise, we’ll use any legal means available to us to stop the plan,” the letter warned.

During a visit to Semnan on December 4, President Rouhani announced that his cabinet had approved the Caspian Sea Water Transfer Project to help the drought-stricken province. While acknowledging the possible impact of the project on the environment, Mr. Rouhani assured the residents of Semnan that the government would go ahead with the plan to help the province. According to Mr. Rouhani, the government has completed its preliminary studies for the project.

Meanwhile, ordinary Iranians and some members of the Majlis (Iranian Parliament) have joined forces with the conservationists to criticize the government’s plan to transport water from the Caspian Sea to Semnan, calling it “unscientific and detrimental to the Iranian ecology.” They have pointed out that the government had not consulted the residents of the coastal provinces whose lives would be severely affected by the project.

Ali Adyani-Rod, the Majlis deputy from Qaem Shahr (Shahi) in Mazandaran Province, has said that the Caspian Sea Water Project was “impractical and impossible to implement.” Mr. Adyani-Rod added: “The residents of the three coastal provinces shouldn’t worry because Mr. Rouhani made the same promise to the people of Semnan during the first and second presidential elections, but the government never implemented the project. This time is not going to be any different.”

Khadijah Golin Moghaddam, the chairman of the campaign to stop the Caspian Water Transfer project, has described Rouhani’s recent visit to Semnan as “useless.” She said: “How could your so-called government of ‘Hope and Wisdom’ that claims to protect the environment spearhead a project that would inflict irreparable damage to the Caspian Sea and disappoint the entire nation?”

Criticizing President Rouhani’s commitment to the project, Mrs. Moghaddam asked: “Aren’t the 10 million inhabitants of Mazandaran, Gilan, Golestan, and Ardabil as important to you as the half a million residents of Semnan? Are you going to sacrifice the Caspian Sea, the Hyrcanian Mixed Forests and the livelihood of millions of people for the sake of a water project?”

Moghaddam warned Mr. Rouhani: “You’ll be responsible for all of the adverse environmental impacts and dire consequences of the Caspian Sea Water Transfer project. History will not judge you kindly. If you go through with this project, you’ll be remembered as the president of Semnan and not the entire country.”

Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi