Monday, September 22, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Iran’s Water Shortages have Domestic and Foreign Policy Consequences

Paul Goble


            Staunton, September 22 – Iran is now facing such severe water shortages in the capital city that it has been forced to raise prices and limit the use of water by industries, thus restricting their expansion and ability to provide jobs for Iranians flooding in from the countryside in search of work, a trend that could affect that country’s domestic stability.


            And at the same time, Lake Urmia in the Azerbaijani-majority region in northwestern Iran is drying up so quickly – like the Aral Sea in Central Asia -- that pressures are again building on Tehran to seek to divert water from the Arax River which passes between Iran and Azerbaijan and has been the subject of disputes before, especially in 2011.


            Yesterday, Iranian Vice President Ishah Jahangiri said on Tehran’s Press TV channel that he had visited a number of the reservoirs around the capital and determined that their reserves had fallen to the point that they could supply water at current rates only for a few more days ( is running out of water


            The energy ministry which oversees these reservoirs, he said, was raising prices and restricting industrial use of water in an effort to cope. But few think that will be enough.  Jahangiri himself said that the Iranian government is going to be forced to restrict the influx of migrants to Tehran because there simply isn’t enough water. It is “exhausted,” he said.


Tehran’s water problems reflect rapid population growth, but the drying up of Lake Urmia have more to do with drought and a decline in the amount of water flowing into that body of water.  Iranian experts have suggested that Tehran should consider diverting water from the Arax to refresh the lake, but Baku is very much opposed.


The Azerbaijani government does not want to put its own water supply at risk, but the issue may not go away is not going away. If Iran does not find more water for Lake Urmia, it is certain to face more protests from ethnic Azerbaijanis in northwestern Iran who have already taken to the streets in the past over water shortages.


But if it does take water from the Arax, that will increase tensions with Baku, especially since the headwaters of many other rivers that provide water to Azerbaijan are in areas occupied by Armenian forces and whose flow could be blocked or limited to put pressure on the Azerbaijani government.  

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