It is hard to imagine life without access to sufficient quantities of fresh water, but in some parts of the world, particularly the Middle East, that is becoming more than a theoretically disturbing possibility, as climate change, mass migration, environmental degradation, drought and political instability – among other issues – make the use and management of diminishing water resources an increasing challenge.
It’s a particular concern in Iran, where a number of problems – not least the stifling effect of years of international sanctions – mean water depletion is now receiving some serious attention.
As Kaveh Madani, an environmental policy expert at London’s Imperial College, explains, there are three main reasons for Iran’s rapidly declining water resources, “one being the rapid population growth”.
He says: “In less than two decades the population of Iran doubled. The second cause is an inefficient agricultural sector. It’s been very important for us over the years of war with Iraq and after that during the sanctions. So it was natural to be really worried about food self-sufficiency and food availability in this country. And the third cause being mismanagement.”
“Water is also linked to so many things and unless we understand and appreciate the linkages and this complexity, we cannot solve this crisis,” he adds.
And a crisis is exactly what it is becoming, Madani explains: “Rivers and lakes are going dry one after another, we’re losing wetlands, we’re seeing land subsidence, we’re seeing desertification, which is really sad.”
But as Iranians watch their beloved bodies of water disappear, their wells dry up and their farmland turn to dust, there is a growing understanding that in order to avoid any kind of existentialist threat in years to come, the country needs to radically rethink its attitude to water use. The government has begun to introduce programmes to conserve and manage water more efficiently – particularly in agriculture – while using social media to alert the public to the problem.
Will these measures prove effective? And do they carry any lessons for other countries in this increasingly arid part of the world?
People & Power sent reporter Gelareh Darabi and a team from Earthrise, Al Jazeera’s environmental series, to investigate the reasons for Iran’s water crisis and the innovative schemes now being adopted to resolve it.
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