Iranians call for soft power now to head off future water crises

At a conference on water, Iranian officials called for moving to resolve potential water disputes with neighbors peacefully, in light of expected drought and other water problems.

al-monitor Abandoned boats in Sikh Sar village sit on dry land at the Hamoun wetlands near Zabol town, in the southeastern Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchistan bordering Afghanistan, Feb. 2, 2015. Photo by GETTY/Behrouz Mehri.

Topics covered

water supply, water management, west asia, afghanistan, abbas araghchi, water

Feb 27, 2018

A senior military adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Feb. 27 for talks with Iraq and Afghanistan on water resources.

At a two-day conference in Tehran, “National Water Diplomacy and Opportunities for Hydropolitics in West Asia,” former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Yahya Rahim Safavi said, “The issue of the scarcity of water resources may lead to … challenges among countries. In Iran, we have common water [resources] with 12 neighboring countries, which can [lead to] both interaction and tensions.”

“[Today],10.2 billion cubic meters of water flow out of Iran, of which more than 7 billion enter Iraq,” Safavi said. “We have to enter into negotiations with countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan and so on.”

He added, “We do not want [this issue] to be dealt with by the military and hard power and [we should instead] use soft power and diplomacy to bring about common engagement.”

He said, “Iran is one of the most exceptional countries in the world in terms of hydropolitics, and Afghanistan will be the source of future water [issues].”

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi addressed the conference the same day, sayng, “As you know, water has the capacity to instigate conflict between two villages, two cities, or two countries, but history shows that the issue of water has become a matter for cooperation between countries rather than an arena of conflict.”

Araghchi added, “Negotiations on surface waters and reaching an agreement on the distribution of water resources are not easy. For example, the Helmand Treaty, signed in the 1950s between Iran and Afghanistan, is a product of decades of negotiations.”

Explaining the prospect of water conflicts in the Middle East in the near future, Araghchi said, “The West Asia region is rapidly moving toward a complete drought. There are currently only nine countries in the region, including Iran, that have not faced a complete drought. But by 2025, all countries in the region, including Iran, will be in a state of complete drought.”

He said, “In such a situation, all countries are seeking to make full use of their water resources and do not allow water to flow out of their country. Our neighbors will adopt this policy, and we will as well. The country's policy is to stop the flow of water from leaving the country. Of course, this is not so our neighbors become thirsty, but as I said, this needs to be managed.”

Mohammad-Ali Sobhanollahi, chancellor of Khawarizmi University, told conference participants, “The geopolitical map of the world, which was previously based on energy, will undergo water-related changes in the next 25 years.”

He emphasized that the water crisis in the Middle East is more severe compared with other parts of the world. “Reports indicate that the water crisis will cause massive displacement in the region in the next 25 years,” he told attendees.

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