Iran’s Water Crisis Highlights its Fractured Economy

Over the last several weeks, protesters in Iran took to the streets to express their discontent over continuous economic struggles and a looming water crisis. The Middle Eastern country’s economy is in shambles thanks to ongoing Western sanction regimes and the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest string of water shortages has underscored and exacerbated these financial issues. Iranians are growing more dissatisfied by the day, signaling that the government needs to implement meaningful changes soon.

Iran’s economy is currently at one of its lowest points. After the United States withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, it reimposed stringent sanctions on Iran. This resulted in a sharp decrease in foreign investment and oil exports. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated Iran’s economic woes. Recent estimates indicate that Iran is one of the hardest-hit Middle Eastern countries, as more than 89,000 Iranians have died from the coronavirus. The deadly virus has spread throughout Iranian society, even infecting those at the highest level of government. Iranian hospitals are nearing the brink of collapse, and due to sanctions, the country has struggled to obtain access to the necessary medical supplies to combat the pandemic. Today, inflation in the country is over 50%, unemployment is staggeringly high, and many workers have reported not receiving wages for several weeks.

Simultaneously, Iran is suffering through its worst drought in 50 years. In May, Iranian Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian warned the government that the country would face water shortages during the summer. Despite this, the regime has done little to prepare, sparking ire among Iranians. Iranian authorities have attributed the water crisis to low levels of rainfall. Experts have noted that recent rainfall levels were 40% lower than the rainfall levels from last year. As a result, many hydroelectric power plants have been unable to operate. Rising demand for electricity to fuel appliances such as air conditioners during the summer has resulted in numerous power blackouts. Iranians have also pointed to a legacy of government corruption and mismanagement that has shaped and fostered the water crisis. The ongoing crisis has significantly impacted agriculture and livestock farming, contributing to further economic stress.

In response to these economic and resource crises, Iranians across the country have begun protesting. On July 15, protests broke out in Iran’s oil-rich province of Khuzestan after many days of severe water shortages. As protests turned violent, one person was killed, sparking even more anger. The demonstrations in Khuzestan follow numerous similar uprisings across the country as Iranians demand changes to the country’s economic and political system. In addition, over the past several weeks, thousands of individuals working in Iran’s energy and oil sector have begun to protest, advocating for higher wages and better working conditions amid growing stress on the industry. Reports indicate that many protesters across the country have been chanting phrases such as “water is my right,” Death to the dictator,” and “Death to Khamenei.”

Iranians are growing increasingly discontent with the country’s economic and resource scarcity crises. Over the past several weeks. Iranians have taken to the streets to express their frustrations, calling on the government to do more to address the dual crises. The regime must implement meaningful structural changes or step aside and empower a government that will.