- PROJECT STATUS :
2017/12/07 Tabriz, Iran
Reporting by Jiwon Park, Intern, Communications and Advocacy
Iran is a country that grapples with the challenges of drying lakes and rivers, declining groundwater resources, water contamination, and numerous other water-related issues on a regular basis. The shrinking of Lake Urmia is a prime example. The lake, situated between the provinces of East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan, used to be one of the largest salt-water lakes in the world. In recent years, it has shrunk to 10% of its size. Many believe unwise management of water resources, including damming of the rivers that flow into it and the pumping of groundwater from the surrounding area, are among the top reasons. What better backdrop to discuss how nexus thinking can help us solve many critical issues of environmental resource management?
Nexus Approach to sustainable resource management can help minimise environmental degradation associated with poor resource planning, while supporting policy implementation for protecting the environment at the same time. While this concept has received considerable attention in academic discussions on natural resource management in Europe and North America, there are few examples of discussion and implementation in regions such as the Middle East. .
To boost awareness of nexus thinking in Iran, UNU-FLORES and the Institute for the Environment at the University of Tabriz co-organised a two-day workshop on the “Nexus Approach in Environmental Resource Management”. From 12 to 13 November 2017 participants discussed a shared vision for nexus thinking is strongly needed in Tabriz, Iran.
The first day of the workshop was dedicated to understanding local conditions. Three local experts – Prof. Naser Agh (University of Urmia), Dr Ali A. Alamolhoda (Sharif University of Technology), and Prof. Saeed Morid (Tarbiat Modares University) provided insight into the environmental issues faced by the region. They also discussed the progress of research as well as the implementation of solutions in Iran so far. Later in the day participants had the opportunity to visit the Lake Urmia area, and see these challenges themselves.
Well over 200 participants – mainly professors, researchers, PhD students, government officials, as well as students at the University of Tabriz, mostly representing water and environmental disciplines – attended the inaugural segment on the second day.
In his opening remarks, Prof. Hiroshan Hettiarachchi, who heads the Waste Management Unit at UNU-FLORES, spoke about how nexus thinking is an important tool when trying to solve environmental issues. Looking at the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus in particular, he emphasised the role waste has to play as a resource.
Among the many more interesting topics discussed during the rest of the day, were the contributions from Prof. Eelco van Beek and Mr. Rudolph Cleveringa from Global Water Partnership (GWP), Dr Fritz Holzwarth (former Rector i.a. at UNESCO-IHE), and Dr Louise Karlberg from Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).
Inspired by the presentations of the experts UNU-FLORES invited to the workshop, participants discussed the next steps in finding a nexus solution to the environmental problems faced by Lake Urmia. One possibility that was heavily debated was the use of wastewater for irrigation.
“While the concept of a Nexus Approach was very well received, opinions were still very divided about the possibility of using treated wastewater as alternative water source as a nexus solution” Prof. Hettiarachchi noted. “It is important to for us to first raise awareness about the Nexus Approach, and to advance the transfer of knowledge from scientific research to policy and implementation sectors.”
The Nexus Approach, as it was discussed, would not only be a sustainable solution by integrating the management of environmental resources but also can be principal means to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ultimately. However, there are still a number of substantive concerns linked to new ideas and the precise concept of the Nexus Approach. Based on the insight on integrated management of environmental resources, the concept of the Nexus Approach needs to be materialised for practical implementations.
Through this international capacity development workshop, local experts gained a better understanding of the concept of the Nexus Approach, and had a chance to share their region-specific knowledge on environmental issues. Based on the positive response of participants, the workshop carries hope for the continued replication of such workshops in other countries, inviting increasingly more experts to help shape the discourse on the Nexus Approach.
As a side event, Hettiarachchi shared his insights on sustainable waste management with students at the University of Tabriz in a separate lecture.
ّFood-Water-Energy Nexus Workshop (youtube playlist)