The World Bank yesterday approved a total of US$344mn in loans for two projects that support the government of Iran in delivering a clean and reliable water supply and sanitation to poor urban neighborhoods and boosting agricultural productivity in farming communities with improved irrigation systems.


About 98% of the urban population in Iran is connected to public water supplies, but only 23% have access to public sanitary sewerage. In the cities of Rasht, Babol, Sari and Anzali along the Caspian Coast in the north, the sewerage system is underdeveloped with wastewater discharged to ditches and rivers as well as natural water bodies running through these cities, such as the Anzali Lagoon, an internationally recognised wetland.


As a result, the water supply is polluted and the environment unhealthy, posing a health risk to the residents in these cities.


The Northern Cities Water Supply and Sanitation Project (US$224mn) is part of a long-term plan to extend water supply and wastewater collection and disposal systems in Rasht, Babol, Sari and Anzali to ensure residents have reliable supply of water. Wastewater collections services and treatment facilities will improve health conditions in urban centres and contribute to the protection of natural resources in the area, like the Anzali Lagoon. The project will also strengthen local institutions to improve the efficiency of water service delivery.


In Iran, more than 90% of water is consumed by agriculture, which accounts for one-fourth of non oil export earnings. Although the country has invested heavily in building dams, it is facing a water crisis on several fronts. Irrigation water use efficiency remains very low despite the importance of agriculture and water quality is deteriorating with silt infiltrating dam reservoirs due to poor forest and range land management.