Iran's Water Crisis and Growing Concerns

Iran's Water Crisis and Growing Concerns
If effective measures are not taken, and favorable conditions are not created, this crisis will again trigger large-scale demonstrations in the country.
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Researcher Oral Toğa

Iranian officials have been making statement after statement about the water crisis as summer approaches. As is well known, Iran is experiencing severe water stress due to both poor water policies and climate change, and the situation is getting worse with each passing year. This crisis also plays a direct or indirect role in many other problems in the country, from food security to suburbanization, and it has caused problems ranging from power outages in cities to damaging agriculture and livestock in the country.

Although the Iranian authorities have been trying to take measures in this regard for a long time, it is not possible to overcome the problem in the short or medium term due to many reasons, such as the global nature of the problem, the fact that some irreversible mistakes have been made, and the continuation of unconscious consumption. Therefore, it can be said that this year, as in the last few years, there may be problems with the water supply, and people could need to make sacrifices due to power cuts caused by drought. It should be remembered that the issues of the water crisis have been the cause of violent protests, especially in 2021, and these protests have evolved into anti-establishment protests through many channels, especially on social media.

The issue began to occupy the agenda of the authorities and has become a top priority with the approach of summer. In an interview with ISNA, Mohammad Sargazi, a member of parliament from Zabul in Sistan and Baluchestan, said that Sistan and Baluchestan is facing an enormous water crisis, and the implementation of solutions must be prioritized. Stating that there is no water to be distributed even by tankers, Sargazi also argued that the issue of the Hirmand River, which is a disputed matter between Iran and Afghanistan and is the main source of water for the Sistan basin, should be a top priority for the Foreign Ministry. In another statement made in January, Sargazi again raised the issue of the Hirmand River and made the controversial statement that " If the Taliban government does not grant Iran water rights, all Afghan citizens will be expelled from Sistan and Baluchistan.” Although these discourses may seem radical, in general terms, they can be read as reflections of the regional dimension of both migration and the water crisis.

Seyed Nasser Mousavi Largani, a member of parliament from Isfahan, also stated that the water issue should be taken seriously and the government should form a commission on the issue. According to the report, Largani asked the President of the Islamic Republic to form a special committee to investigate the neglect of the water crisis in Isfahan. As detailed in the article, according to Largani, the main problem in Isfahan is not the lack of water supply, but the mistakes made in the management of water resources. "Isfahan, which is an important and strategic region, is facing the greatest danger in its history due to the mismanagement of water resources," Largani said. He added that he has drawn attention to this issue in many places, including in the presence of the President of the Islamic Republic. He concluded by saying that he warned about the water problem in Isfahan before it reached the irreversible point and asked the President to appoint a special committee to investigate why the water crisis has been neglected. According to him, "If there is no evil behind the crisis, there must be mismanagement.”

In Iran, where the occupancy rate of dams has already dropped to as low as 38 percent in January, the situation of 17 major dams located in different parts of the country is alarming, with occupancy rates ranging from 1.5 percent to 18.4 percent. Unless something drastic changes, the situation is likely to worsen over the summer. On April 24, a news report on one of the alarming dams, the Saveh Dam in Markazi Province, quoted Ezzatollah Amirai, Director of Central Provincial Regional Water Company, as saying that the water level in the dam was at a critical level. At a meeting, Amirai said that while there were no serious concerns about drinking water in the city of Arak, the Saveh Dam's situation was critical. Amirai said that the average rainfall in the province had decreased by 4.5 percent compared to last year and that 1,947 illegal wells had been closed since 2015.

The country's food security is also threatened by declining water resources. Iran, which is already suffering from a shrinking agricultural economy, rural depopulation, the climate crisis, and the war in Ukraine, is 82nd out of 125 countries in the world in terms of food security. In addition, Iran imports agricultural products from Russia and Ukraine, including more than four million tons of wheat, barley, corn, soybeans, and cooking oil from these two countries. There are doubts as to whether or not the water crisis will have an impact on the security of food supplies. In this context, there have been a number of media reports suggesting that the crisis will not turn into a food crisis. For example, an April 24 report in ISNA stated that in Gilan province, one of the country's largest rice-growing areas, efforts and projects are being rapidly put into effect to protect producers from the drought. Gilan Governor Asadollah Abbasi said that the water crisis will not turn into a crisis in rice production. Abbasi ordered a series of plans for the coordination of farmers and provincial administrators, declaring a province-wide mobilization to prevent rice producers from becoming victims. Rice is a very important item of consumption for the Iranian people, and if its production is put at risk, the negative psychological impact on the population will be significant. Therefore, it is of great psychological importance for the authorities to work hard to alleviate concerns on this issue. Similarly, the psychological impact of the egg supply crisis on the public in recent years has been quite significant.

Parallel to the statement in Gilan, Mohammad Javad Askari, the head of the Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Environment Committee of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, told Payam News on April 27 that the food problem has been overcome in the plains of Fars Province. "Greenhouse products can play a special role in production, employment, and foreign exchange earnings for the country in the current sanctions situation. The necessary legal basis for exports has also been created”.

Almost all of the above statements were made within the same week. Every other day, more news about the current crisis appeared in the Iranian press. With the approach of summer, the serious tone of these warnings and the increasing frequency of warnings issued by the authorities strengthen the idea that a major crisis is at the doorstep. Many problems that the crisis will bring with it, such as the negative impact of power cuts on many sectors, from heavy industry to small shops, difficulties in access to drinking water as well as water for agriculture and food security, cause the country's vulnerability to increase in the summer. As is known, the protests that have taken place with increasing frequency over the last decade took another dimension after the Mahsa Amini protests. The troubled relations between the government and the people, especially over the past year, are likely to be put to the test again by the adverse conditions of the drought. If effective measures are not taken and favorable conditions are not created, this crisis will again trigger large-scale demonstrations in the country.