Despite the widely publicized success in Lazoor, there is a general consensus that the Hable River program still lacks an overarching “sustainability vision.” This failure to develop a common purpose and agenda among community-led projects across the region has limited the program’s impact. It is also jeopardizing the original objective: to produce a workable blueprint for sustainable land and water management applicable across rural Iran.
According to Hossein Jafari at UNDP in Tehran, “the elements of a national model for rural land and water management are in place, but we have been unable to fit [them] together” (Jafari 2003).
As a result, UNDP ended its involvement in the first phase of the project in 2002, with two thirds of the $1.2 million dollar budget still unspent. “There had been very good activities in the field producing very good results,” says Mr. Jafari. “Trials in ten more villages would not have produced any added value. Our key objective now is to produce a national model based on the successes of Lazoor and other areas” (Jafari 2003).
To this end, senior UNDP and FAO officials met with key government officials in January 2003. Agreement was reached for the two UN agencies to prepare the program’s second phase with government support. Work on producing a river basin-wide model for sustainable resource management, replicable across the country, is due to start during 2003. A participatory monitoring and evaluation system will also be established.
Whether such a regional blueprint will be able to generate a revolution in sustainable natural resource management across Iran will depend on many factors, not least the willingness of various government ministries to embrace decentralization initiatives and coordinate effectively (Jafari 2003).
Clearly, the early years of Iran’s transition from bureaucratic, centralized control of natural resources to an environment where people play a leading role in preserving their own natural surroundings have not been entirely smooth or easy. There is a long way to go before partial decentralization of power over natural resources becomes full-fledged environmental democracy, with communities genuinely in charge of decision-making, program management, and budgets. Or before Lazoor and other Hable River communities become workable models for the whole of rural Iran.
Nevertheless, although the trend in Iran so far is toward granting limited powers and resources to local people, the results have been positive, delivering ecological benefits and improving dialogue between government and civil society.
“If the right lessons are learned from Lazoor and other successful areas,” suggests Malcolm Douglas, “and they spread the effort across the whole region and go in with less of a technical fix, then there could be a major beneficial ecological impact” (Douglas 2002).