Iran’s massive sewage project hit by unexpected hurdle – sewer thieves

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Iran has worked for decades to modernize its sewage system. But metal thieves throw a wrench into the factory.

Authorities recently announced that one of the country’s largest public works – the nearly 50-year effort to build a massive wastewater treatment network in the capital – is “70 percent” complete.

But Masud Reza Sameni, deputy head of the Tehran Sewerage Company, told reporters last week that the already scarce project was threatened by the dangerous and costly theft of cast iron manhole covers and other materials needed to complete the work.

In the greater Tehran area, thousands of manhole covers were stolen, which were installed along 7,000 kilometers of completed sewer pipes, said Sameni on November 28th.

The thefts in Tehran have contributed to a rising trend of channel thefts, which are reported across the country as a widespread economic crisis, rising inflation and the viciousness of international sanctions.

Despite the hiring of guards, Sameni said, subcontractors reported that tools and 80 percent of the corrugated iron used for the project had been stolen, forcing authorities to buy back the items at local bazaars.

In addition to significantly increasing the price of a project that has already cost more than $ 300 million, the thefts pose safety risks to drivers and pedestrians and can result in an edge cut to replace stolen items.

“Although the manhole covers are replaced immediately after complaints from citizens,” Sami is quoted by the newspaper Tabnank, “we sometimes miss our technical standards.”

A water official in affluent District 3 in central Tehran was previously quoted by the Iranian media as saying that nearly 5,000 of the city’s estimated 150,000 manhole covers was stolen last year when thieves tried to take advantage of the increasing demand and prices for junk.

Official Ali Mousavi said even concrete spares were stolen and broken to extract steel bars.

Dangerous trend

The Tehran police chief has downplayed the situation, calling the theft of materials needed to build the capital’s sewage project “petty theft” and assuring that there has been no increase in such crimes and that his department has taken the situation “seriously” . “

But widespread reports of theft of manhole covers and building materials in other parts of the country indicate a dangerous trend.

In the southwestern city of Ahvaz, the head of the city’s water and sanitation department said on Dec. 1 that nearly 2,000 manhole covers and hundreds of water meters had been stolen in the past nine months.

Since many Tehran manholes are made of cast iron, they are an attractive proposition for thieves who can make money quickly by selling them as scrap. (File photo)

Saeed Dashtizadeh told reporters that metal theft was one of the biggest problems his department is dealing with.

“Since the manhole covers are made of cast iron, you can sell them and thieves steal them for this reason,” the state news agency IRNA quoted Dashtizadeh as saying. “One of the dangers that manhole cover theft poses to citizens is people, especially children, who fall into sewers.”

Dashtizadeh said the situation made the city decide to install it Composite material covers in the future.

In the past six months, more than 1,000 manhole covers have been reported stolen in southern Hormozgan Province and manhole thieves have been arrested in central Isfahan Province.

A video of a woman in the southwestern province of Khuzestan try to steal a manhole cover in broad daylight made the rounds on social media, with one commentator blaming the thefts on rising living costs and poverty.

In July, IRNA reported that a gang of four men had used a pickup truck to steal at least 100 manhole covers Arrested in a “professional manner”.

Existential threat

Dwindling water supplies are seen as an existential threat to Iran, where poor water management, drought and corruption-ridden infrastructure projects in recent years have contributed to water shortages and resulting protests across the country.

Civilians joined farmers in Isfahan last month require the authorities to release water into the Zayandhrud River, which once flowed through the city but is now dry for most of the year.

The protests were answered with violence by security forces, more than 200 people were arrested and the crowd was dispersed with tear gas. This raid followed the At least nine protesters died and the arrest of more than 170 other people in Khuzestan province in July.

The construction of modern wastewater treatment networks in Iran has been promoted for decades by foreign organizations, including the United Nations, and touted as a way of reducing water loss through evaporation or seepage while at the same time providing treated water for irrigation of plants.

In his 2012 Water report, the UN stated that “prior to the Islamic Revolution, wastewater treatment and recovery were practically non-existent in Iran”.

As Tehran’s population has grown exponentially over the past four decades, the city has become one of the largest in the world without a modern wastewater treatment system, but rather dependent on an unorthodox and polluting method of dumping waste into the earth.

“Since the early 1990s,” according to the UN report, “the general approach has been to treat the wastewater and either discharge it into the environment, where it mixes with freshwater flows and is reused indirectly downstream, or by using the Water from qanat is mixed to irrigate it to limited, relatively low-quality plants. “

The Tehran sewage project aims to “improve the environmental conditions in the greater Tehran area by installing sewage collection and treatment systems to improve public health and further improve irrigation systems in the surrounding areas,” according to the World Bank, which pledged $ 150 million for the $ 340 million cause in 2000.

In 2017, Iran secured a loan of just over $ 140 million from the Islamic Development Bank to continue the project.

The head of the Tehran Sewerage Company, Sameni, said that despite the inflow of cash, more money needs to be provided from the state budget, which has risen by only 10 percent in recent years, while inflation has risen by 80 percent.

If all goes well, the project started in 1975 could be completed in 10 years.

Written by RFE / RL’s senior correspondent Michael Scollon, based on coverage by RFE / RL’s Radio Farda.


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