Environmental issues with Urbanization in Iran

In Iran, the recent increase in urban living, mostly due to higher wages and less physical jobs, has had environmental impacts, mostly the formation of a thick smog in major cities and a loss of water in aquifers, lakes, and rivers. Because it is so difficult to make any money through farming, more and more people have moved into the cities for jobs. Poverty and unemployment remain issues in rural areas.

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However, other issues plague urban areas. In large cities such as Tehran, a dirty brown layer of smog envelopes the streets for much of the year. The people living in Iran’s capital city have over 260 smog filled days per year, and Iran’s health ministry links this with a rise in respiratory disease. The air pollution, surely in part caused by an increase in urban populations, has gotten so bad that cancer and respiratory illnesses, likely caused by this air pollution, have become the 2nd and 3rd highest causes of death in Iran. 

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This image shows the smog and pollution in the now urbanized and highly populated city of Tehran. Air pollution in major cities in Iran has become a huge problem, both from environmental and health reasons.

Pollution has recently become so bad that last December, schools closed in Tehran when the airborne concentration of fine particles in the city was almost eight times the recommended maximum. Approximately 5 million tons of carbon dioxide are being put into Tehran’s atmosphere each year, and many other pollutants are added from low quality domestically-produced gasoline. To make matters worse, the weather phenomenon known as “Temperature Inversion” creates a bubble around the city, trapping pollutants and smog where people are forced to breath it in.

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In fact, environmental issues in Iran are such a huge problem that  the World Health Organization named four of Iran’s cities part of the top ten most polluted cities in the world! The Irani government has placed restrictions on cars, banning even and odd license plated cars every other day, alternating. However, this is a short term solution, which doesn’t really solve the problem. Since the government doesn’t have a real plan to get rid of smog (just a way to make less of it) the only solution is to wait indoors until the rain or wind sweeps it away.

Rapid urbanization has hurt the environment in other ways as well. Rivers and lakes that were once important to the the area’s way of life are now drying up, leading to dust storms which hurt livestock and agriculture. Dam building and and increase in water needs in the population due to urbanization has directly affected water use and the desertification of Iran, as well as contributing to the drying out of many aquifers. Water is a much needed resource, and has high baseline water stress due to overuse. In fact, by 2040, Iran is expected to rank 13th-most water-stressed in the world.

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There are good reasons to have a higher rural population too. Nomads and other people living in rural areas produce 5.7 million tons of goods per year, including almost 200,000 tons of red meat. Iran actually has over 1 million nomads, 1.25% of the total population. Having high employment rates on farms and in the agricultural sector helps with food security and prevents the difficulties tied to urbanization. In Iran, where the economy is still lagging compared to the rest of the world in terms of technology, rural communities are vital to their way of life. 

Unfortunately, much of Iran’s land is unsuitable for farming and the rest is poor quality. Urban culture and consumerism are also a cause of urbanization and the abandonment of the countryside. The urban lifestyle is just too appealing for young people.

The rapid urbanization in Iran has led to many environmental issues, both for those living in the cities and outside of them.

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