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Is Iran Running Out of Water?

Iran Water Crisis
Image: Creative Commons.

Last year, severe droughts and prolonged water mismanagement catalyzed deadly protests in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The demonstrations erupted in the central city of Isfahan, where thousands of farmers were facing dry farms that threatened their livelihoods. 

Controlling Water in Iran, the Middle East

For years, the Iranian government spearheaded dam construction efforts throughout the country to generate electricity and manipulate water routes. Farmers and other agricultural workers felt the brunt of these projects as they received smaller and smaller allocations of water. While these demonstrations shone a light on Iran’s water shortages, this crisis has been ongoing for years. For at least a decade, frequent droughts, groundwater depletion, and vanishing water sources plagued the country.

Iran is not the only country in the Middle East that faces natural resource limitations. Many of its Arab neighbors are “water-stressed,” and have relied on technology and state-run projects to rectify ongoing water shortages. Following the 1979 Revolution, Iran’s leadership turned to the construction of dams to solve the persistent water problem. By the late 1980’s Tehran became the third-largest dam builder in the world after China and Japan. While dams provide short-term advantages, Iran’s government went overboard with its efforts. Ultimately, too many damns were crafted in poor locations, displacing many civilians and damaging ecosystems. 

Over the last few years, the BBC reported many of the dams in Iran appeared to be running low. Some protestors called for the remaining water supplies in the dams to be directed toward agricultural workers in the regions below them.

Water for Energy 

The construction of hydroelectric dams has also worsened the water crisis in Iran. As water collects in these reservoirs, it eventually evaporates due to extremely hot temperatures. The country’s largest hydro-dams are on Khuzestan’s Kuran river. While the government has re-allocated some of the water supplies in these dams to struggling regions in the country, other areas are left completely dry. 

According to an Iranian hydrologist, “There is no comprehensive nationwide water management plan, or inter-agency coordination, although there is a lot of talk about the need to have them.”

In addition to the government’s misuse of resources, laws enable the over-extraction and manipulation of water sources in Iran. Landowners, after receiving a permit, can legally extract any amount of water. According to the managing director of Iran Water Resources Management Company, approximately 320,000 illegal wells exist throughout the country. 

Climate change is also contributing to Iran’s growing resource problem. As temperatures become hotter and drier, Iran’s water crisis will exacerbate. In 2021, several months represented the driest periods in Iran since the early 1980s. As Iran’s water shortage has ballooned into a national crisis, more civilians are becoming frustrated with their government’s lack of action. In the 2021 protests that swept the country, Iranian security forces cracked down on demonstrators. As temperatures continue to rise and farmland dries up, more protests will likely rock the country.

Iran will not be the only Middle Eastern country to face a long-term water crisis. A report released by the Carnegie Endowment this year projected that the region will be the first to “effectively run out of water” down the line.

Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.

Written By

Maya Carlin is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Ghost Tomahawk

    July 1, 2022 at 12:30 pm

    We have to be willing to let these people die. It sounds inhumane but the only way to end evil is to let its fate play out upon itself. If we intervene their leaders will use it as another example of western imperialism. If the Iranian people are unwilling to throw off the yoke of terror that has been foisted upon them, then they are at least co-existing with it. Loving someone doesnt always mean you have to save them from themselves. Sometimes you have to let people fail.

    • Marina

      July 2, 2022 at 10:29 am

      Are you sure you are human?

    • Marina

      July 2, 2022 at 10:30 am

      I’m sorry for your way of thinking، If you wish death for someone, death will come back to you

  2. David Chang

    July 3, 2022 at 8:41 am

    God bless people in the world.

    This is the best time to preach the truth in Genesis to people in Iran.

    Let them understand that worshiping science is wrong.

    Trust God, cherish the earth created by God, save plants and animals created by God, is proclaiming God’s good and Justice.

    Let the laws of physic and chemical determined by God provide drinking water for people in Iran.

    God bless people in the world.

  3. TG

    July 3, 2022 at 11:45 am

    In 1976, the population of Iran was about 33 million.

    To a great extent because of the Iranian government’s post-revolution pro-natalist policies, the population of Iran is now about 84 million.

    “The more the merrier?” Rubbish. More people don’t cause more rain to fall from the sky, but they do increase the demand for water. Governments forcing ever more people into a country, so the rich can have cheap labor, always results in downwards pressure on the average person.

    But we can’t talk about this, because that would limit the ability of the rich to continue to force populations up ever higher – and of course, to avoid responsibility for their past actions.

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