A dam without water in Iran. 2017. (IRNA)

By Behnam Gholipour

January 28, 2019

Eighty percent of Iranians will soon face a shortage in access to drinking water – a crisis that will provoke social discontent and unrest within the next three years.

This dire warning was issued by the Iranian parliament’s Research Center in a new report [Persian link] that also says this past summer suffered Iran’s “worst” water shortage. Already 46 percent of the population, about 37 million Iranians, face a lack of easy access to drinking water.

“As a result of the drinking water crisis, some cities saw scenes of unrest, creating challenges for the authorities,” the report explains, warning that tensions resulting from water shortage can quickly turn into a security challenge.

The study was commissioned in response to recurring droughts in recent years – thought to be a result of global climate change – and the ensuing unrest seen in many parts of country.

In June 2018, police and Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf city of Khorramshahr opened fire on demonstrators protesting a severe shortage of drinking water in the city, killing one and injuring several others. And these protests were not an isolated incident.

The Current Drinking Water Crisis

The study looks at various regions in Iran and warns of a worst-case scenario in which much of the country will become barren in just three years. Such an alarming decline in fortunes is due at least partly to the fact that the situation today is also dire. The 46 percent of the population who deal with water shortages are spread across 334 Iranian cities, with more than 2 million people in rural areas also suffering from the water crisis.

The following table shows the severity of the drinking water crisis and the number of Iranians affected by it in the summer of 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

In major drainage basins, according to the Research Center, the crisis most affects the population living in the basin of the Central Plateau where 16.7 million people live in 129 cities. The drainage basin of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, where more than 3.5 million live, is the second most affected by the crisis. And even in the drainage basin of the Caspian Sea that used to enjoy ample precipitation, more than 3.5 million people in 48 cities are faced with a drinking water crisis.

In major drainage basins, according to the Research Center, the crisis most affects the population living in the basin of the Central Plateau where 16.7 million people live in 129 cities. The drainage basin of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, where more than 3.5 million live, is the second most affected by the crisis. And even in the drainage basin of the Caspian Sea that used to enjoy ample precipitation, more than 3.5 million people in 48 cities are faced with a drinking water crisis.

 

 

The Crisis in 2021: By the Numbers

The study predicts that in three years, 15 million more people will be forced to live with shortages in access to drinking water. “Assuming that the urban population of Iran will grow at a rate of 1.32 percent per year, in 2021 the urban population covered by the drinking water system will grow to around 63.2 million,” declares the report. “Based on this assumption and assuming that current trends will continue, a striking portion of the urban population will be hit by drinking water crisis.”

In 2021, according to the report, 433 Iranian cities with a population of more than 50 million, equal to 80 percent of the total population of the country, will face the crisis of drinking water.

The report also notes that there may be more danger in the years ahead. Current forecasts can only be made according to expected population growth; the report cannot quantify, for instance, how much worse the crisis will be if agricultural water increases and if precipitation declines still further because of climate change and other factors.

In 2015, the World Resources Institute published a study, “Ranking the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries in 2040,” which said that the Middle East is in the center of this impending crisis and that the situation will worsen with each passing day.

“With regional violence and political turmoil commanding global attention, water may seem tangential,” the study said. “However, drought and water shortages in Syria likely contributed to the unrest that stoked the country’s 2011 civil war. Dwindling water resources and chronic mismanagement forced 1.5 million people, primarily farmers and herders, to lose their livelihoods and leave their land, move to urban areas, and magnify Syria’s general destabilization.”

When it comes to water, Iran is in the same precarious position as Syria. The clouds are gathering for a disaster that goes on and on – but the Iranian government has failed to take this crisis seriously and the Iranian people have been unable to force their rulers to solve the crisis before it’s too late.

All the evidence shows that ongoing drought is draining the lives of millions of Iranians. Plains are collapsing, aquifers and ground water are drying up and turning to dust. And the situation is deepening the political, social and security crisis that sparks protests and rallies and clashes across a vast and parched land.

Iran Wire

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.