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Drought, Climate Change Drive Migration To Already Parched Province

In this Tuesday, July 10, 2018 photo, people rest under an arch of the 400-year-old Si-o-seh Pol bridge, named for its 33 arches, that now spans a dried up Zayandeh Roud river, in Isfahan, Iran.

The director general of the Meteorological Organization of Mazandaran province in northern Iran says widespread drought in the country is driving migration to his province as farmers look for land with a more plentiful water supply, but Mazandaran is itself now struggling with a water shortage.

Speaking at the 18th National Rice Conference on Monday, Director General Mohammad-Reza Razavi said the provinces struggling with the most severe drought, including Fars and Khuzestan provinces, have compounded their problem by increasing the amount of cultivated land by 50 percent, meaning there is less water to irrigate more land.

Razavi said the shortages have spurred migration to the Mazandaran province,"but, Mazandaran is also threatened by a shortage of water,” adding that droughts have led to a 30 percent drop in precipitation in Mazandaran each year. ​

Increasingly severe droughts, a dramatic drop in precipitation caused by climate change, and years of government mismanagement of water resources has made life increasingly difficult for farmers and others living in the provinces, and is one of the issues driving civil unrest in the country over the last year.

Iran is increasingly vulnerable to climate change, experts say. Rainfall in the Middle East is expected to fall 20 percent by the end of the century, and temperatures could rise by as much as 5 degrees Celsius, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"A severe drought, mismanaged water resources, and dust storms diminished Iran's economy in recent years, according to experts who study the region. While the protests are largely driven by resistance to the country's hardline conservative government, such environmental factors might have contributed to the largest protests inside Iran in years" Scientific American reported last January amid massive demonstrations in at least a dozen cities in Iran.

"The drought has certainly impacted Iran's economy broadly, and it's impacted the quality of life and living and migration patterns around Iran quite considerably," Suzanne Maloney, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's Energy Security and Climate Initiative told Scientific American.

"It's an issue of huge political importance, one that factored into the presidential election last year, so it's certainly something I think one can say has had a role in shaping frustrations and driving some of the underlying grievances around the protests," Maloney said.