Iran’s Water Crisis: A Looming Hydrological Drought and Its Impacts

Firooz Ghasemzadeh, spokesperson for Iran’s water industry, recently announced that the country continues to grapple with a severe hydrological drought. Six provinces, including Tehran, Bushehr, Qazvin, Fars, Semnan, and Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, are currently experiencing significant water stress. Ghasemzadeh highlighted that over 80% of Iran falls within a dry climate zone, exacerbating the water scarcity issues.

Decline in Rainfall and River Flow

Ghasemzadeh pointed out a troubling 19% decline in rainfall in Tehran compared to historical averages over the past 55 years. This decline has been particularly acute over the last three consecutive wet years, contributing to a critical reduction in water resources. The flow of most rivers in Iran was nearly zero until recent months, leading to alarmingly low water levels in many of the country’s dams.

Media and Expert Warnings

On March 22, coinciding with World Water Day, Iranian media and environmental experts raised alarms about the deteriorating water situation. State-run media echoed these concerns, indicating that the water crisis is worse than ever before. Ghasemzadeh stressed that reversing the effects of three years of low rainfall would require several years of significantly increased precipitation.

The Impact of Torrential Rains

While discussing potential solutions, Ghasemzadeh noted that torrential rains, unlike steady and effective rainfall, often result in floods rather than replenishing water reserves. In areas lacking infrastructure such as dams, these downpours lead to water wastage, as the water flows away rather than being stored for future use.

Dam Water Levels and Groundwater Concerns

According to the ISNA news agency, an investigation into Iran’s water resources from September 2023 to February 2024 revealed that 33 major dams have less water than in the previous year, with reservoir volumes dropping by more than 10%. The Tasnim news agency quoted water expert Mohsen Mousavi Khansari in April, highlighting the alarming state of Iran’s groundwater. Khansari warned that various provinces continue to exploit underground water resources unsustainably.

Agricultural Water Usage

In Iran, agriculture consumes over 90% of the available water, yet the productivity of this usage is only about 35 units per thousand units of water. This inefficiency exacerbates the water crisis, as large amounts of water are lost without yielding proportional agricultural output.

Erosion, Land Subsidence, and Migration

The prolonged drought has led to significant environmental impacts, including erosion and land subsidence in many parts of the country. These issues have become more pronounced in recent years, contributing to increased inland migration. A report by the regime’s parliamentary Research Center in March 2023 indicated that from 1986 to 2016, an average of one million people migrated internally each year. However, updated statistics for the past seven years remain unpublished.

Climate Risk and Global Comparisons

Iran ranks 18th on the global climate risk index, highlighting its vulnerability to climate-related disasters. However, in terms of policy and performance among 63 countries, Iran ranks last. Official statistics reveal that between 2011 and 2016, 4.3 million people migrated internally, primarily from marginal to central areas.

Regional and Global Water Tensions

Global surveys indicate that the Middle East and North Africa region, which includes Iran, faces the highest water tensions. Projections suggest that 44 countries in these regions will experience ‘very high’ or ‘high’ levels of water stress by 2040. Rapid urbanization, population growth, climate change, and economic development are all placing immense pressure on water systems.

Climate Change and Future Challenges

Over the past fifty years, Iran’s average temperature has risen by 0.4 degrees Celsius per decade, rainfall has decreased, and evaporation and transpiration rates have increased by about 4.8 mm annually. The monsoon rains of 2023, which could have alleviated some of the water stress, were largely wasted due to insufficient infrastructure, with much of the fresh water being lost to the sea or evaporation.


Iran’s water crisis is a multifaceted issue requiring immediate and sustained action. The combination of declining rainfall, inefficient water use in agriculture, and inadequate infrastructure to capture and store water highlights the urgent need for comprehensive water management strategies. Addressing these challenges is critical for the country’s environmental sustainability and social stability.

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