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Iran’s Socio-economic Drought: Challenges of a Water-Bankrupt Nation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022

Kaveh Madani
Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, UK and Department of Physical Geography, Stockholm University, Sweden
Amir AghaKouchak
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Irvine, USA
Ali Mirchi
Department of Civil Engineering and Center for Environmental Resource Management, University of Texas at El Paso, USA


Iran is currently experiencing serious water problems. Frequent droughts coupled with over-abstraction of surface and groundwater through a large network of hydraulic infrastructure and deep wells have escalated the nation’s water situation to a critical level. This is evidenced by drying lakes, rivers and wetlands, declining groundwater levels, land subsidence, water quality degradation, soil erosion, desertification and more frequent dust storms. This paper overviews the major drivers of Iran’s water problems. It is argued that while climatic changes and economic sanctions are commonly blamed as the main drivers of water problems, Iran is mainly suffering from a socio-economic drought—i.e. “water bankruptcy,” where water demand exceeds the natural water supply. In theory, this problem can be resolved by re-establishing the balance between water supply and demand through developing additional sources of water supply and implementing aggressive water demand reduction plans. Nevertheless, the current structure of the water governance system in Iran and the absence of a comprehensive understanding of the root causes of the problem leave minimal hope of developing sustainable solutions to Iran’s unprecedented water problems.

Copyright © The International Society For Iranian Studies 2016

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