A grave environmental crisis in the southern coasts of the Caspian Sea has taken beauty away from a region once praised for its unique landscape.
I live in the northern Iranian city of Rasht, the center of Guilan Province, a region that shares a 170 mile coastline with the Caspian Sea and is home to approximately 2.5 million people.
Rasht is around a 30 minute cab ride from the shores of the sea. Owing to its unique natural landscape, magnificent greenness and pleasant weather, Guilan was often referred to as the “Bride of the North.” Likewise, Rasht, a city that receives a great deal of rainfall, has been traditionally called the “City of Silver Rains.”
However, to many concerned observers, Guilan is no longer worthy of such accolades due to the current condition of its climate, air, water resources and natural landscape.
The Caspian Sea coastline is considered a major tourist destination, and thousands of Iranians flock to Guilan Province every summer to enjoy the beauties of the region. But the shores are not as dazzling and clean as they used to be over a decade ago.
Tourists who spend their time in Guilan around the Caspian shores have become increasingly inattentive to the hygiene and cleanliness of the beach and casually dispose their trash by the seaside.
Moreover, there’s a grave problem of domestic and industrial sewage being offhandedly released into the sea. According to local reports, of the 400 million square meters of wastewater produced annually in the three northern Iranian provinces of Guilan, Mazandaran and Golestan, only 40% is treated and converted into usable effluent, while the remaining 60% is discharged into the Caspian Sea or the rivers that flow into it.
Hamidreza Ghaffarzadeh, the Caspian Environment Programme’s project manager, maintains that the Caspian coastal nations are potentially capable of harvesting $5 billion-worth of fish and other aquatic products from the sea every year, but the growing pollution of this unique body of water is rendering this impossible.
Referring to the role that the city is playing in the contamination of the Caspian Sea, Ghaffarzadeh said: “With a population of above 1 million, Rasht is to account for the discharging of an enormous amount of untreated urban, industrial sewage into the rivers that join the Caspian Sea. Therefore, the source of this microbial pollution is completely evident, and there’s no need to deflect responsibility.”
A 26 mile-long river streams through the center of Rasht called Zarjoob, meaning the “Gold Lake,” which was once a hub for fishing and a source of supplying drinking water for locals. It also provided water for agriculture and other domestic uses.
However, throughout recent decades, the river has turned into a source of contagion, microbial diseases and insecurity for the city, as the industrial and urban expansion of Rasht, along with the ineptitude of local authorities, has made this thriving river a torrent of debris and trash. The people residing in the districts close to the river are disturbed by the unbearable stench coming from Zarjoob.
The only solution local officials found for the disposal and collection of wastewater coming from tens of new factories, hospitals and residential complexes built in the city following the 1979 revolution was to let sewage flow into the Zarjoob River, which ultimately meets the Anzali Lagoon and the Caspian Sea—both of which are protected by international conventions and also face a serious pollution crisis.
Some environmental experts say only a few living species can survive in Zarjoob, which is informally known as “the most polluted river in Iran.”
Between 2000 and 2010, the World Bank initiated the Northern Cities Water Supply and Sanitation Project in Iran to help solve a sanitation and sewage problem in the cities of Rasht, Anzali, Sari and Babol.
In Rasht, the project was specifically based on directing the industrial and domestic wastewater to a treatment plant through an overall reconstruction of the city’s water supply network and installing a new set of pipelines underground.
However, after spending $148 million and causing an indescribably long delay in implementing the project—again highlighting the incompetence of local authorities—it was announced in early 2011 that the cooperation between Guilan Province and the World Bank was concluded and that the international body would no longer be providing financial assistance to local government.
For ten years, the people have patiently tolerated the extreme hardships of frequent diggings in the streets and obstructions that slow down their daily lives. Nonetheless, the entire project collapsed and hardly anyone could identify what Guilan officials had done with the $148 million in financial aid they received from the World Bank.
Now, the Caspian Sea and Zarjoob River have become sources of embarrassment. Parvin Farschi, the deputy head of Iran’s Department of Environment, says 100% of domestic wastewater from homes located in the coastal regions of the Caspian Sea in Guilan and Mazandaran Provinces are ejected into the sea, leading to mass infection of fish and marine creatures, which make up an important part of the regional inhabitants’ nutritional cycle.
Guilan has traditionally been known for its greenery and beautiful shores, but the signs of those memorable days are fading as a result of our own negligence and the inability of officials to come up with creative solutions for the environmental crisis.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: Arashk
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