On May 19, Iran goes to the polls to select a new president. So far the campaign has been dominated by the economy. Unemployment is high, and oil prices are low. The lifting of sanctions following Tehran’s nuclear agreement with the West has yet to yield benefits. Yet the effect of sanctions — or whether the next president is a hard-liner or a relative moderate — is secondary to the largest long-term threat to Iran’s stability.
Due to gross water mismanagement and its ruinous impact on the country, Iran faces the worst water future of any industrialized nation. After the fall of the shah in 1979, water policy became a victim of bad governance and corruption, putting the country on what may be an irreversible path to environmental doom and disruption that owes nothing to sanctions or years of war with its neighbors.
Sooner or later, the music will stop. Mother Nature is forgiving only up to a point. Once aquifers are pumped dry and begin collapsing on themselves, there is no engineering project — corrupt or otherwise — that can save them. The presidential election won’t change any of that. Reining in the IRGC and reallocating the country’s water is, like much else, not in the hands of Iran’s president. The supreme leader will have to take on a system created under his less-than-supreme leadership.
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