By Esfandyar Batmanghelidj
The most important sentence in the Persian language is arguably “Baba ab dad.” The sentence means “father gave water.” It is the first sentence taught to Iranian children when they are learning to read and write. Beyond its phonetic simplicity, it establishes the sense of obligation to one’s parents that is so indicative of an Iranian childhood.
It also establishes an expectation that elders will care for young and that the powerful will care for the powerless. In a sense, “father gave water” is the most succinct articulation of the promise of the social contract in Iran.
In the assessment of experts, Iran is “water bankrupt,” a terminology that echoes the country’s economic woes.
In a 2016 paper, Kaveh Madani, Amir AghaKouchak, and Ali Mirchi determine that Iran’s water crisis is mostly man-made, though exacerbated by climate change. Drivers of the water crisis are myriad and include population growth, urbanization, poor infrastructure, inefficient agriculture, a lack of governance, and wasteful behaviors.
In light of these challenges, the authors warn, “No single solution will ‘fix’ Iran’s water problems… To solve these issues, it is necessary to adopt a portfolio approach that involves implementing multiple concurrent strategies.”
Notably, Madani is now deputy head of Iran’s Department of Environment, and his energetic leadership on the issue is indicative of the increasing cooperation among governmental, commercial, and civil society groups to try and mitigate the crisis. Scenes of Iranian communities praying for rain and the possible connection between water insecurity and the recent protests speak to the urgency of the task at hand.
As the crisis reaches a tipping point, the response may be becoming more organized. The authors suggest that extreme events leading to increased pressure and public awareness can reduce the political cost of radical regulatory changes. Thus, while extreme events and crises are destructive and costly in the short term, they can have long-term benefits if the system under management does not collapse before reforms are applied.
Jan Oberg comments
Drought was major reason that Syria socio-economic conflicts intensified and broke out in violence. You can read about that fact here in William Polk’s excellent analysis here. It’s of course the type of reasoning that has had no place in Western media which satisfied themselves by the mantra that Bashar al-Assad is a dictator and heading a regime that kills its own, etc.
But this perspective comes to mind when reading the entire article above. And it is urgently important that Iran does not experience the same with similar terrible consequences. Both countries have also been the object of cruel Western sanctions which serve only aggravate the socio-economic crisis, support the development of a black economy and a mafia elite and undermine the middle class.