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Water Crisis in Urban Iran: Critical Geography Meets Critical Pedagogy

Behrang Foroughi: In Iran, the water crisis is alarming. In the last 10 years, drought and mismanagement of water resources exacerbated by adverse effects of climate have been feeding dissatisfaction with Iranʼs government, sparking deadly protests throughout the country. There is a mounting disillusionment with the national government and its political efficacy to address the water crisis. There is a significant divide between communities and local government where most immediate water demands are met. It is a crisis of legitimacy, a lack of responsiveness and trust in the institutions that govern water resources and distribution as it affects peopleʼs livelihoods. Topdown interventions and decision-making have proven not just wrong but destructive. It is time to bring water decision-making closer to the everyday life of people, where they can participate in the deliberations over how water resources should be managed and water crises should be governed. Achieving inclusive local participation for responsive water governance demands a Community Development (CD) framework. CD, a dynamic concept with an expanded toolbox and international stories, can guide practitioners to engage with local communities and enable multistakeholder participation effectively. CD fosters a sense of collective agency– a shared expectation and organizational capacity for social action –within groups of people invited to or claiming a social space, making transparent decisions regarding the water resources affecting their livelihoods.

Critical to this is the right of every stakeholder to voice their concerns and interests, but more importantly, to participate in the deliberations, the decision-making, and the monitoring and evaluation of would be proposed actions. Also critical is the awareness that participation is a spatial practice. Hence, we should be mindful of the visible, hidden, and invisible forms of power governing such spaces. Taking water decisions closer to where people live and having them participate in those decisions make the process both transparent and effective while also developing aware and engaged conscious citizens.

Drawing from Iranʼs own historical experiences of community-based water management along with the lessons learned from best practices of water management in global contemporary cities, the proposed framework will generate a repertoire of community-based approaches, tools, training materials, and case studies to inform the planning, monitoring, and evaluation of inclusive and locally responsive water management in urban Iran. Should the Iranian government choose to put the long-term interests of the nation as their main priority there is still hope to turn the page and open spaces of deliberation and collaboration to improve water governance in both rural and urban areas.

Behrang Foroughi is a Learning and Development Consultant, based in Toronto, Canada. Illustration: Shahrokh Heidari


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