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Iran Tehran - water in Iran
Photo 1 : Tehran, Iran, (Source: Frank 947, Pixabay).

Contributors

  • Authors: Niloofar Sadeghi is Programme Officer for Natural Sciences, UNESCO Tehran Cluster Office.
  • Peer Reviewer: Majid Kholghi, is a Professor in Irrigation and Reclamation Engineering Department, Director of Groundwater Research Institute, University of Tehran,Iran.

Iran faces major challenges in securing water and food for its growing population. These challenges result from both the country’s semi-arid climate and declining precipitation over the past decade, as well as the inefficient use and management of limited water resources. If the current water consumption and management practices continue, it is likely that the existing water scarcity problem will become a crisis.

Geography and climate

The Islamic Republic of Iran covers a total area of 1.648 million km2 and is bordered by Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea and Turkmenistan to the north, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east, the Gulf of Oman, the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf to the south, and Iraq and Turkey to the west.The country lies between latitudes 25º 04′ and 39º 46′ north, and longitudes 44º 02′ and 63º 19′ east.[1]

Map of Iran
Map 1: Map of Iran. @Fanack water

About 57% of the country is covered by mountains and deserts [2], and about 16% is over 2,000m above sea level. The largest mountain chain is the Zagros, which runs from the north-west southwards to the shores of the Persian Gulf and then eastwards to the most south-eastern province. Another mountain range runs from the north-west to the east along the southern edge of the Caspian Sea. The Interior Plateau, some 50% of the country, is located in between these mountain chains. It includes Dasht-e Kavir, a vast desert with seasonal salt lakes, and areas of loose sand or stones with stretches of better land near the foothills of the surrounding mountains.[3]

Iran has a generally hot dry climate characterized by long summers and short, cold winters. 73% of the country’s total area falls under dry weather, 14% has a moderate climate, and 13% has cold mountainous weather.[4] The climate is influenced by Iran’s location between the subtropical aridity of the Arabian Desert and the subtropical humidity of the eastern Mediterranean. In the summer, the country’s south-eastern region is affected by the Indian monsoon. January is the coldest month, with temperatures ranging from 5°C to 10°C; August is the hottest month, when temperatures can exceed 30°C.[5]

About 70% of the average rainfall in the country falls between November and March; whereas June through August are often rainless. The quantity of rainfall varies from season to season and from year to year. Precipitation is sometimes concentrated in localized but violent storms, causing erosion and flooding, especially in the winter months. A small area along the Caspian Sea has a very different climate. Here, rainfall is heaviest from late summer to mid-winter, but falls in general throughout the year.[6]

Figure 1: Annual rainfall in Iran between 2010 and 2019.[7]

Precipitation distribution in Iran

Map 2: Precipitation distribution (mm) in Iran, (Source: Ministry of energy, Iran).

Population

According to the most recent national census carried out in 2016, the population of Iran is 79.93 million, with an annual growth rate of 1.2%.[8] Some 74.9%[9] of the population lives in urban areas, mostly in the north and the west, a percentage that has been steadily increasing for the past 50 years. The most populated cities of the country are Tehran, Mashhad, Tabriz, Esfahan, and Shiraz. The deserted central parts of the country are fairly uninhabited.[10] Over the past 60 years, the population has quintupled from 13 million in 1956.[11] Projections suggest that this number will reach 103 million by 2050.[12]

Figure 4: Population changes in Iran from 2010 to 2016.[15]

Figure 2: Iran’s population (1960-2020).[13]

Figure 3: The population growth rate in Iran (1960-2019).[[14]

Economy

Iran is the second largest economy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region after Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated at US$628 billion for the Iranian calendar year 2020/21.[16] Iran’s economy is characterized by a large hydrocarbon sector, small-scale agriculture and services sectors, and a noticeable state presence in manufacturing and financial services. Iran ranks second in the world in natural gas reserves and fourth in proven crude oil reserves. Economic activity and government revenues still depend to a large extent on oil revenues and therefore remain volatile. However, governmental statistics show that the biggest contributor to the GDP is the services sector.[17]

The Iranian state continues to play a key role in the economy, with large public and quasi-public enterprises dominating to some extent the manufacturing and commercial sectors. The financial sector is also dominated by public and private banks. Moreover, the business environment remains restrictive, with the country ranking 127 out of the 190 countries surveyed in the 2020 Doing Business report.[20] The Iranian government has implemented a major reform of its subsidy programme on key staples such as petroleum products, water, electricity and bread, which has resulted in a moderate improvement in the efficiency of expenditures and economic activities. Stimulating private sector growth and job creation is a mounting challenge for the new government, especially considering the number of workers who will enter the labour market in the coming years, including women and youth.

Figure 5: Iran’s GDP (1990-2018).[18]

Figure 6: Iran’s GDP growth rate (1990-2018).

  • Agriculture, hunting, forestry and fishing
  • Oil and Gas
  • Industry and Mines
  • Services

Figure 7: Contributions of Iran’s GDP by activity in 2013/2014.[19]

[1] The Statistical Centre of Iran, 2019. Iran Statistical Yearbook 1397 (2018 – 2019). Available at https://www.amar.org.ir/english/Iran-Statistical-Yearbook/Statistical-Yearbook-2018-2019
[2] Zekri, S. ed., 2020. Water Policies in MENA Countries (Vol. 23). Springer Nature. Available at https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-29274-4
[3] AQUASTAT, 2008. Country Fact Sheet: Iran. FAO’s global information system on water and agriculture. Available at www.fao.org/nr/water/aquastat/countries_regions/irn/index.stm
[4] Zekri, S. ed., 2020. Water Policies in MENA Countries (Vol. 23). Springer Nature. Available at https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-29274-4
[5] The Statistical Centre of Iran, 2019. Iran Statistical Yearbook 1397 (2018 – 2019). Available at https://www.amar.org.ir/english/Iran-Statistical-Yearbook/Statistical-Yearbook-2018-2019
[6] www.weatheronline.co.uk/reports/climate/Iran.htm.
[7] The Statistical Centre of Iran, 2019. Iran Statistical Yearbook 1397 (2018 – 2019). Available at https://www.amar.org.ir/english/Iran-Statistical-Yearbook/Statistical-Yearbook-2018-2019
[8] Ibid.
[9] The Statistical Centre of Iran, 2019. Iran Statistical Yearbook 1397 (2018 – 2019). Available at https://www.amar.org.ir/english/Iran-Statistical-Yearbook/Statistical-Yearbook-2018-2019
[10] Zekri, S. ed., 2020. Water Policies in MENA Countries (Vol. 23). Springer Nature. Available at https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-29274-4
[11] Ibid.
[12] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2019. World Population Prospects 2019, custom data acquired via website. Available at https://population.un.org/wpp/DataQuery/
[13] The World Bank Data
[14] Ibid.
[15] The Statistical Centre of Iran, 2019. Iran Statistical Yearbook 1397 (2018 – 2019). Available at https://www.amar.org.ir/english/Iran-Statistical-Yearbook/Statistical-Yearbook-2018-2019
[16] World Bank, 2021. Iran’s Economic Update, April 2021. Available at https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/iran/publication/economic-update-april-2021
[17] Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 2013. Annual National Accounts. Available at https://www.cbi.ir/simplelist/5796.aspx
[18] The World Bank Data
[19] Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 2013. Annual National Accounts. Available at https://www.cbi.ir/simplelist/5796.aspx
[20] World Bank Group,  2020. Doing Business 2020 . Available at www.doingbusiness.org/reports