Like the Amazon, Iran’s forests are at risk

Deforestation is a serious, ongoing problem in the Islamic Republic. Between 1900 and 2012 the country’s forested area dropped from 19 million acres to 14.4 million. By 2015 the acreage was down to 10.7 million. For experts, Iran might not have any forest left 100 years from now. Both hardliners and pro-reform camps are committed to the environment, but sanctions and corruption have hampered action.

Tehran (AsiaNews) – As in the Amazon forest, Iran is experiencing the progressive loss of its forested areas. This jeopardises the country’s future with serious consequences for the entire planet.

Numbers don’t lie: Between 1900 and 2012, Iran’s forest acreage decreased from 19 million acres to 14.4 million, shrinking further to 10.7 million by 2015. In a century, Iran lost almost half of its forested and green areas.

The seriousness of the problem goes beyond the water crisis that is affecting the entire Middle Eastern. “With the current deforestation, Iran will have no forest in the next seventy-five to a hundred years,” said Esmail Kahrom, an advisor to the Iranian Environment Department

For Zahed Shakeri, assistant professor of forest ecology at the University of Kurdistan, “The problem is big if you consider the proportion of Iran’s forests to its total land.”

“Since Iran is located in an arid zone, forests and other vegetation types have an important role in different aspects of life—social, ecological, and economic,” he explained. “Most of the forests are located on fertile soils, so, traditionally, the demand for changing land use to agriculture is high.”

Thus, a number of factors have fuelled deforestation in Iran, some caused by the country’s aggressive pursuit of economic development, others outside Iranian officials’ control, such as construction, illegal logging, overgrazing, and wildfires spurred by climate change. US and European sanctions have also influenced this trend.

The war of the 1980s between Iran and Iraq also led to the loss of part of the western forests in the Zagros mountains. Mass tourism has equally impacted the Caspian forests.

The change in land use and the mismanagement of forest harvesting have exacerbated the problem, this according to Naghmeh Mobarghaee, associate professor of environmental planning at the Environmental Science Research Institute at Shahid Beheshti University.

Inappropriate development plans, such as building irrelevant dams and changing hydrologic systems, powerlines, highways, and mining have compounded the issue. Indeed, little attention has been paid to the consequences on nature of such activities. Pervasive corruption has made matters worse.

The environmental emergency is a question that is now beginning to resonate with public opinion and the country's rulers.

From independent parliamentarians to hard-line Islamists close to the top clerical leadership, Iranians across the political spectrum have expressed their concern and called for action to reverse the crisis.

So far, there have been few initiatives, such as the ‘National Tree-Planting Day’, as well as a modest crackdown on illegal logging, and a request for assistance from the international community.

However, for Austin Bodetti, an expert in Islamic culture, little has been done to reverse the trend and tackle the situation. The current level of crisis requires instead ambitious and long-term projects and responses focused on environmental protection.

To this extend, the collaboration of the international community is needed, not the forced isolation exacerbated by economic and trade sanctions.