Water crisis in Iran: A desperate call for action
By Kaveh Madani
Drying lakes and rivers, declining groundwater resources, land subsidence, water contamination, water supply rationing and disruptions, forced migration, agricultural losses, salt and sand storms, and ecosystem damages are the modern water-related issues of a nation which was once recognized as the pioneer of sustainable water management. The government blames the current crisis on the changing climate, frequent droughts, and international sanctions, believing that water shortages are periodic. However, the dramatic water security issues of Iran are rooted in decades of disintegrated planning and managerial myopia. Iran has suffered from a symptom-based management paradigm, which mainly focuses on curing the problem symptoms rather than addressing the main causes. The separation of “development” from “environment”, and aggressive shortsighted regional development plans have resulted in unintended water problems whose long-term costs are significantly higher than their short-term benefits. No matter how advanced the Iranian water management system is in comparison with the other countries in the region, there is no doubt that Iran is currently experiencing a serious water crisis. In theory, Iran is currently experiencing the growth and underinvestment problems that the West experienced in the 20th century or even today. However, what makes the current problems in Iran different from similar problems in the West is the depth and extent of the secondary impacts of development. Rather than proactive management to prevent water problems, Iran’s reactive management has focused on curing the symptoms, whereas the causes of the problems are becoming worse over time. While the public, experts and media continuously warn about the major water crisis symptoms, less is being said about the main drivers of the crisis and effective exist strategies. But, what are the main drivers? Crisis driver 1: Population growth and spatial distribution. Crisis driver 2: Inefficient agriculture. Crisis driver 3: Mismanagement and thirst for development. What to do? The water problems in Iran are far too many and significant to leave any doubt about the fact that Iran is experiencing a looming water crisis. Immediate mitigation actions are required to address the existing water problems throughout the country. There are good signs that the new government of Iran recognizes water security as a national priority at the moment and is trying to address some of the more evident water problems immediately. Nevertheless, fundamental changes in the current Iranian water management paradigm are essential to prevent the development of similar problems in the future and to secure sustainable water resources for Iran.