Iran’s Water Crisis Worsens: Could Foreign Investment Help?

Via Future Directions International, a look at Iran’s growing water scarcity problem where over 500 Iranian municipalities face water scarcity due to inefficient water infrastructure and unregulated domestic use:



The Iranian water crisis has little improved since FDI previously reported on it in 2013. A drying climate and inefficient water infrastructure have continued to be major problems. There is an increasing disparity between the supply and demand of water. Increasing water usage among the affluent population is met with high evapo-transpiration rates of a naturally dry country. Currently, domestic use stands at 70 per cent higher than the global average and previous attempts to increase water security have failed. Iran’s water was previously managed on a communal basis but after the Islamic Revolution the government took a central role in its distribution. The centralised-planning approach to water has seen an increase in the exploitation of private water rights. With little to no metering to ensure withdrawal limits are not breached, this has caused a 50 per cent reduction in groundwater availability. Issa Kalantari, the former Minister of Agriculture, stated that the water crisis is the main problem that threatens Iran. The Iran–Iraq relationship and Iran’s nuclear programme often overshadow the significance of the water crisis. If the water crisis is not addressed, it has been suggested that Iran could be a completely dry and arid country by 2045.


Iran has no notable watersheds and relies heavily on fossil and imported water. The population is concentrated in the north as the rest of the country is arid and relatively inhospitable. Getting water where it needs to go is a very difficult task. The pipelines that currently exist are too inefficient to meet growing demand, leading to water scarcity. Groundwater use remains the most viable source of water for Iran. The capital city, Tehran, has seen groundwater levels plummet over the past year by over 1.5 meters. Further declining groundwater levels will counteract any potential increase in rainfall and further contribute to the water crisis.

Reform in the Iranian agriculture sector is key to addressing water scarcity. The physical geography of Iran is not conducive to agriculture and yet this sector of the economy receives roughly 90 per cent of the country’s water supplies. Contributing just 13 per cent of Iran’s GDP and accounting for 23 per cent of employment, the agriculture sector requires a major overhaul for it to remain sustainable. Under Islamic Republic rule, the goal of self-sufficiency is a major principle. Iran is trying desperately to meet this goal, but as 71 per cent of precipitation evaporates, it is not feasible for Iran to be a self-sustaining country. Decreasing farming opportunities have already forced many to migrate to the cities.

Thus far, Iran has tried to solve the water crisis by itself. With limited outside influence the solution in the past was to create dams to increase water capacity. Iran is currently third globally in terms of dam construction. There are more than 500 dams currently operating with approximately 100 more under construction and 400 in the design or feasibility-study stages. This is a remarkable feat given their size, but a changing climate has meant that the problem is not one of capacity but supply. As a result of the long-standing mismanagement of water, Iran has increased its efforts to expand co-operation with foreign countries to tackle its water crisis. An unlikely ally has been Japan which has recently allocated US$1 million ($1.37 million AUD) in project funding to reduce Iran’s non-revenue water. Post World War II, nearly 80 per cent of Japan’s water generated no revenue; today this value has dropped to less than four per cent. Iran currently stands at 26 per cent non-revenue water levels and Japan’s investment and knowledge will be invaluable. This money is to reduce non-revenue water in Khansar, a region in central Iran where up to 60 per cent of water is lost. Iran needs to open up its economy to foreign investment and innovation; only then will it be able to tackle its water crisis in any meaningful way.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 16th, 2015 at 5:17 am and is filed under Iran.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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