New environment chief says water situation 'disastrous'.
Today's environmental issues cannot be blamed on the Pahlavi era as they all have occurred since the Islamic Revolution, Kalantari said.
Closing schools and offices for two days at a time may help mitigate air pollution, he said, but the water shortage is catastrophic.
"In order to become self-sufficient in wheat, we've lost sustainable water and soil resources through sentimental decision-making," the former agriculture minister lamented. The Rohani Administration recently boasted of making Iran self-sufficient in wheat.
Kalantari went on to say, "The difficulties we are going through now are the outcomes of our decisions during the 80s and 90s; we were so excited to become self-sufficient that we overlooked the long-term implications."
At one time, Iran's livestock totaled 70 million, which was believed to exceed the carrying capacity of the country's grazing areas. Now the number has grown to 120 million, Kalantari pointed out.
"Once we supported ranchers to produce up to 120,000 tons of meat which contributed to severe erosion; in fact, we exchanged 120,000 tons of meat for 1 billion tons of soil per annum." He repeated his long-time mantra: "Currently, we withdraw more than 110 percent of our renewable water resources while the number should be restricted to 40 percent."
Kalantari warned several years ago that Iran would become an unlivable wasteland within decades if drastic measures were not taken.
Even if the government pursues environmental reforms, only part of the damage can be reversed, as other parts are irreparable, he said.
Since President Rohani took office four years ago, Kalantari has headed the effort to revive Lake Urumiyeh, so he has been intimately involved in water issues.
Kalantari did not exude optimism Monday. "Although some environmental issues, such as air pollution, can be resolved, it's almost impossible to reverse harms inflicted upon exhausted and depleted soil and water resources."
He said, "I cannot improve Iran's environment all by myself. The government and the public must all join hands to help the environment."
In her valedictory speech, the outgoing chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, Masumeh Ebtekar, said all projects have been assessed environmentally prior to implementation and some 10 to 15 percent did not live up to environmental standards and were rejected.
"If we seek any improvement, we have to be able to say no to some requests. If we can't stand up against environmentally detrimental projects, there will be no environment to protect anymore," she warned.
Ebtekar has been appointed as the vice president for women and family affairs in Rohani's new administration.
First Vice President Es'haq Jahangiri, who swore in Kalantari, said Iran is a developing country and cannot miss development opportunities. But "we have stated on multiple occasions that the development that endangers Iran's future is not what we want; we want to undergo development and safeguard our forests and environment.
"We have to find a way both to accelerate development and protect the environment and this is what managers should do," he added.
Meanwhile, in an article published Monday in the daily Etemad, environmentalist Mohammad Darvish outlined some of his expectations.
"The Environmental Protection Agency should be authorized to veto projects that might result in environmental harms," Darvish wrote.
The administration should put an end to numerous dambuilding projects, he said. In fact, outgoing Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian tried to stop rampant dam-building--but failed.
Darvish said Iran should forget dams and focus on improving water-use efficiency in the agriculture sector, recycling water, reconstructing qanats and, in case these fail to work, Iran can build desalination plants as a last resort.
Darvish expressed the hope that one day everyone will stop thinking the environment is hindering development.
Caption: KALANTARI ... damns autarky