By Princess Noor Pahlavi
My father and grandmother have always been able to face opinions, noise, and stress without appearing overwhelmed. I believe that part of their peaceful and calm demeanor comes from their close ties to nature and making time to immerse themselves in its beauty when they need time to reflect. My father is an avid scuba diver, which is where he does most of his thinking, and my grandmother begins her day with yoga outdoors. Nature is also an important part of our national identity as Iranians. Whether Nowruz, Sizdah Bedar, or Shabe Yalda we celebrate and honor the unblemished beauty of the natural world.
The stories my family tells of Iran are filled with depictions of its remarkable landscape. From the snowy hills of Azerbaijan, to the rugged Zagros in Kordestan, to the Arvand Rood in Khuzestan, their memories make Iran come alive in all its splendor. But that splendor has been threatened for some time. The destruction of Iran’s environment is perhaps this regime’s most lasting crime — one that will deprive future generations.
The former glory of Lake Oroumieh has been reduced to dust. The Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf used to be bustling with sea life and filled with pristine waters. Today, each is filled with sewage, waste, and contaminants that threaten the life of both animals and humans. The fresh air which used to flow from Mt. Damavand is now filled with particulates that kill thousands. The vast plains which used to be filled with game and wildlife are now filled with unkempt waste and corrosive materials.
What makes these tragedies even worse is that they are not accidents. They are the result of criminal mismanagement — a physical reflection of a regime that puts its own consolidation of power before the protection of its country and its country’s natural resources.
This regime, in pursuing its agenda of enriching itself, has squandered our environment. It runs corrupt dam projects that fill the pockets of its own leaders and friends instead of filling our villages and farms with water. International estimates suggest that this water crisis could cause 50,000,000 million of our compatriots to become refugees.
Not only does the regime mismanage surface water, but it has dug shanty wells into the ground. These ramshackle wells have caused 70% of our groundwater to be extracted. Scientists estimate that the water collection rates are double the international standard and our agricultural efficiency rates are half.
Iran was not always like this. Long before environmentalism, renewable energy, and recycling became common in global politics my grandfather was instituting programs to protect Iran’s environment. He began our first national conservation program and built dams and waterways to preserve water. Inspired by both his faith and his love for Iran he did not believe that our natural, public resources like rivers, forests, marshes, and grazing fields should be privately held and used for profit — but rather that they should be shared among the people and future generations. It was with this deep belief that his White Revolution nationalized land for conservation.
He oversaw the planting of nine million new trees and the creation of 250,000 acres of vegetation and forests to prevent the expansion of deserts. This would have been an immense help to the people of Khuzestan who today are overrun and choked by overwhelming dust storms caused by over aridity.
The love of nature is a part of our national heritage — described in our epics, songs, and stories. Unfortunately the current regime doesn’t value these facets of Iran. In fact, they consider those who draw attention to these issues a threat.
Unlike for my grandparents, for whom environmentalists were allies in the fight to rejuvenate and maintain the greenery of Iran, an essential part of its culture, for this regime they are spies. This is evidenced by the shameful arrest and abuse of activists who promote clean water, air quality, and environmental standards.
However, all hope is not lost. If these issues are acknowledged, we will all have a role to play in revitalizing our environment. Teachers, parents, media, all of us will have to play our part in educating our fellow citizens on the importance of environmental stewardship. To help, there are scientists and experts both inside and outside of Iran developing plans and programs to ameliorate the devastation of the past 40 years.
Experts from the Phoenix Project and other distinguished scientists are researching methods to clean up our pillaged land. Many have spent decades researching and developing plans for improving our water systems. The result is clear: Iran will need a comprehensive, national environmental plan to resuscitate our dying nation. This will include a comprehensive education, water recycling, regulation, and desalination program.
Scientists tell us that the criminal actions inflicted upon our environment are reversible, but that there is not much time left. We can revitalize and rebuild our country, but we must act now. I long to see the rolling green hills of the Caspian coast and rugged mountains of the Zagros and the dunes of Khuzestan and I hope to be given the opportunity to play a part in rebuilding them.