31 Jan 2014
The UNDP-supported Conservation of Iranian Wetlands Project aims to enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of Iran’s system of wetland protected areas as a tool for conserving globally significant biodiversity. Photo: UNDP/Iran
“Angels will kiss the hands of those who help us,” the man said.
The face behind the handshake was grizzled and weathered with leathery skin that bespoke years of harshness. The fisherman’s eyes welled with suppressed tears. He yearned for a time when his life was one of plenty. Lakes brimmed with water and fish, his children were happy, and life was good.
He wanted me to tell the world about the desperate conditions in Iran’s harshest, poorest region: the Hamoun wetlands of Sistan.
“Wetlands” is really not the right word for these parched lands. There is little gainful employment, and more than half the residents get by on welfare delivered through the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation (IKRF), a parastatal organization.
They were mainly fisher folk, though almost all are now unemployed, living amid the decayed ruins of ghost-like villages built alongside once-thriving lakes.
Hamouns comprise three large wetland areas covering 5,660 square kilometers. Two-thirds of these wetlands are located in Iran, linked and fed by water from Afghanistan’s Helmand River.
Twenty years ago, most of this area was green, and the lake teemed with fish. The wetlands also supported agriculture and water buffalo herds, providing a livelihood for thousands …