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Inside Iran’s new migration crisis

The majority of migrates are from provinces of Kermanshah,  Khuzestan, Lorestan,Bluchestan  and Fars
The majority of migrates are from provinces of Kermanshah, Khuzestan, Lorestan,Bluchestan and Fars

Analysis by PMOI/MEK


Oct. 26, 2018 - As Hurricane Michael leaves a seaside Florida town in an existential crisis, a new wave of migration hits Iran, and it’s going to change the population map and leave Iran in an existential crisis. But this time, the wave of migration rises from drylands.

In July 2017, Hassan Rouhani’s advisor in water, agriculture, and environmental affairs told the state-run website Aftab News that 70 percent of Iranian people –almost 50 million people– have to migrate to save their lives if the water crisis continues.

No agriculture, no life; Lack of both irrigation and potable water drive these people from dryland to other places, leaving deserted villages behind. Now we can hear the sound of migrates’ steps through the media, mostly moving from the southern and central regions toward the green lands of Mazandaran province in northern Iran.

According to official reports by the Presidential Deputy in Strategic Planning and Control, over 5.5 million people migrated internally in Iran between 2006 and 2011. The report also indicates that 78 percent of those inhabited cities and 22 percent chose to live in villages. 

The majority of migrates are from provinces of Kermanshah, western Iran; Khuzestan, Lorestan in the south-west; Bluchestan in the south-east and Fars southern Iran. Migrates mostly moved to Northern provinces of Tehran, Alborz, Isfahan, Gilan, and Mazandaran.

The first question that strikes the mind is “why?” Why should millions of people leave their own houses and lands for new and strange locations? Water crisis could be the first answer to the question, but the main reason is more complicated and stems from Iran’s political history.


Background of internal migration

The Motaleat Shahri Magazine, the journal of urban studies, explains the concept of migration in Iran. The magazine spring of 2013 issue highlighted that the concept of migration started in the aftermath of WWII during the Pahlavi’s era. The era coincided with the half-baked growth of capitalist relations, the growing role of petroleum in the political economy of Iran, and farmers’ dependence on cash. The occupation of Iran by the Allied Forces in WWII prepared the ground for more migration from villages to cities. However, the rate of internal migration to cities was 1.5 percent during 1956-1962.

The second wave of migration belongs to 60s when Shah’s government launched a series of reforms called “White Revolution”, the agenda that continued during the current regime to date. The 60s era witnessed a swift extension of cities and the expansion of governmental bureaucracy. Figures show the catastrophic results of Shah’s reforms, as the urban population was 31.4 percent in 1956, but it increased to 71.3 percent in 2011.

In the Shah era, the share of total industrial production in non-oil GDP was 20%, while the share of services was 56%. However four decades after the fall of the Shah dictatorship, the figures are quite the same: the non-oil GDP is 13% and the share of services is 50%. All these indicate that domestic production has been collapsed and the focus of services on cities, has totally damaged the rural structures and now, after villages, small cities are becoming deserted as well.

The devastating policies of two dictatorships pushed Iran on the brink of disaster after 50 years– villages are going to be completely deserted and the agriculture is ruined; even western and eastern cities near borders are suffering from migration and the conclusion is an overpopulation of central and northern cities.

Khuzestan province in southwest Iran is suffering from migration the most. Parvaneh Salahshoor, a member of the regime’s parliament revealed that “400,000 people have left Khuzestan for northern provinces.” The state-run news agency IRNA quoted her as saying, “10 percent of Khuzestanis have left the province.”

The rural affairs directorate of Fars, southern Iran, also stated that out of 8,000 villages of the province, 4000 are deserted due to the water crisis.

The water crisis is not yet a disaster just for abovementioned regions. Now, after the migration of thousands of people to the north, the shadow of crisis is extending over the north as well.

Reports indicate that the green lands of Mazandaran province are now complaining about the lack of water. The Secretary of the Waste and Environment Working Group of Mazandaran declared that 100 percent of underground waters and 70 percent of surface waters of Mazandaran are being exploited now. He also forewarned about the migration of millions of people to the province in the near future.

The managing director of Mazandaran water also says that 80 percent of Mazandaran’s water sources are now used for irrigation and the province is heading toward a crisis in providing the province’s water.

Of course, the regime has no agenda to manage the crisis. While it is more concerning with spending billions of dollars on expanding terrorism and proxy wars to save its own dictatorship, no budget is allocated to the basic needs of the Iranian people.

The water crisis, which is known as the “massacre of the environment,” is the most dangerous environmental phenomenon that threats the Iranian people. The irregular dam construction and unlimited good drillings contracts that direct millions of dollars to IRGC bank accounts have long-term damage to Iran’s environment.

Iran’s uprisings and unrests are escalated during the recent months. Many protests raised their voices against the regime’s policies on the water crisis. However, their mottos would change immediately against the suppression demanding freedom. This shows that the Iranian people believe that water crisis and lack of freedom in Iran are connected and the key, is regime change in Iran.