Prior to the 1979 revolution, Iran’s population, numbering 34 million people at that time, relied on a stable water supply, sourced from millennia-old underground canals and aquifers. The Islamic revolution, hi-jacked by the mullahs, changed all that. The theocratic regime handed control of the nationalized water industry and over 70% of all other business, industrial and service sectors, to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Iran now faces an ecological disaster. As the world experiences the hottest summer on record in 2023, warnings about escalating global warming have become even more pressing, but appear to be ignored by Tehran.

The mullahs’ maladministration over four decades has left Iran struggling with deforestation, desertification, water scarcity and countless other examples of environmental degradation. Climate change is exacerbating these environmental issues and turning them into a matter of life and death for the Iranian population, now 85 million strong. The deprived people living in southern, central and eastern Iran have witnessed the relentless destruction of their water infrastructure by the regime’s institutions, primarily the IRGC. The situation has become so bad that in Sistan and Baluchistan province in south-eastern Iran, water stress is reaching catastrophic levels and people are being forced to collect rainwater from ditches and from crocodile infested lakes. 

Water stress is measured by the available water per cubic meter per person annually. If a country has more than 1,700 cubic meters per person per year, it is considered safe. Below 1,700 cubic meters per person per year represents water stress and below 1,000 cubic meters represents a water crisis. Iran has been fluctuating between water stress and water crisis since 2022. Predictions are that water availability in Iran may fall below 500 cubic meters per person by 2050, creating a devastating situation.

Iran’s farmers account for more than 90% of water usage and have been repeatedly encouraged to accelerate crop and stock production to feed a population starved by government ineptitude, mismanagement, and tough international sanctions. Faced with dwindling water supplies, Iran’s farmers have been forced to bore deeper wells into the depleting groundwater resources to irrigate their crops and water their livestock. It is reckoned that the number of wells has multiplied more than thirteen times since the 1979 revolution, with most of them illegal and draining far more water than can be sustainably maintained. 

In response, combining rank incompetence, venal corruption, and a total disregard for environmental concerns, the IRGC set about a decades’ long program of widespread hydropower dam building, in a series of huge and dishonestly lucrative infrastructure projects, that blocked and diverted rivers and drained lakes and aquifers. As the population of Iran expanded exponentially and climate change saw summer temperatures often soaring to 50 degrees Celsius (122°F), the water crisis grew

Many dams have been constructed by the IRGC in the wrong places, preventing water from reaching towns and villages and causing drought in some areas and flooding in others. Farmers, deprived of a regular water supply are no longer able to irrigate their crops, creating food shortages. Meanwhile corrupt IRGC officials pocket the profits from selling potable water at outrageous prices to some of Iran’s poorest people. As always, when sporadic protests break out, the regime refuses to help, instead ordering the IRGC and Basij internal security thugs to crackdown on protesters and crush dissent, turning Iran into a volatile powder-keg, that frequently explodes into open insurrection. Now, water levels in the Karkeh River in Khuzestan, one of the legendary four great biblical rivers of the Garden of Eden, have fallen dangerously low due to environmental damage and mismanagement. The situation has been exacerbated by water shortages in other semi-arid Iranian provinces like Isfahan, where irrigation canals have diverted water from major river systems to supply heavy industry. 

The resulting severe water shortages have caused running water from rivers and lakes to become excessively salty, impacting negatively on crop and livestock production. It is claimed that already over 1.2 million date palms, a crucial income source for farmers in Khuzestan, have died of drought. Recently, IRGC Chief Hossein Salami, travelled to Khuzestan and issued threats to the thirsty population, stating that the IRGC will confront anyone who undermines the country’s security and will quash any protests. But the crisis of water scarcity has long passed Khuzestan and has now reached the capital, Tehran, where thousands have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest about water shortages. The prospect of a rebellious nine million-strong population of the capital rising up in anger, terrifies the clerical regime more than anything else. But the mullahs’ only response to the growing crisis has been to threaten further violence.

It is this sort of prevailing paranoia in Iran that has hounded out those who could have helped the situation and forced a brain drain that has seen most of Iran’s best environmental scientists flee the country. As Iran creeps steadily closer towards ecological meltdown, environmental concerns have figured prominently in protests, particularly in regions populated by ethnic minorities like the Azeris and Iranian Arabs. The mullahs have reacted with typical viciousness, shooting dead unarmed protesters and arresting hundreds of others. But as water and food shortages grow, the Iranian population is becoming increasingly aware of the fact that the government is incapable of delivering basic public goods and services. The tipping point has been reached. Without adequate supplies of food and water, over 85 million enraged Iranians will quickly lose their fear of batons and bullets.

The only answer to the environmental crisis in Iran, as well as the answer to the economic crisis, the answer to the social crisis and the answer to the security crisis across the Middle East and worldwide, is the downfall of the mullahs’ totalitarian regime.