Summer has arrived in the province of Sistan and Baluchistan, an impoverished fragment of chapped earth and shimmering heat in the southeastern corner of Iran, and all people can talk about is how to get water.
For weeks now, taps in towns like Zahedan have only produced a salty trickle that’s getting weaker. In villages that the water pipes never reached, the few remaining residents say that people can barely find enough water to do laundry or wash, let alone fish, farm or raise livestock.
“Sometimes, just to wash the dishes, we have to wait so long,” said Setareh, 27, a student at the university in Zahedan, the provincial capital. “Everything from cooking to other chores is an ordeal for us.”
Drought has plagued Iran for centuries, but the threat has intensified in recent years as political priorities took precedence over proper water management, experts say. Climate change has only made matters worse in a region that generally receives no rain for seven months of the year and where temperatures can reach 124 degrees in July.
Sistan and Baluchistan, where Iranian lawmakers warn that water will run out completely within three months, may seem an extreme case. But other regions are not to be outdone. Drought is forcing water cuts in the capital, Tehran, shrinking Lake Ummia – the largest saltwater lake in the Middle East – and the livelihoods that go with it, and fuelling mass migration from the Iranian countryside to its cities.