Water management paradigms in Iran: technical, social and ethical aspects

M.R. Balali, F.W.J. Keulartz, M.J.J.A.A. Korthals

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference paperAcademic


    In Iran, water scarcity is one of the main problems threatening food security. The country is confronted with the challenge to continue the expansion of food production to meet future demand without negative effects on the environment. To illuminate the problems and perspectives of water management in Iran and comparable (semi-)arid countries, three paradigms should be distinguished: the pre-modern paradigm, the industrial modern paradigm, and the reflexive modern paradigm. The pre-modern water management paradigm can be characterised by its key technical system (the ‘qanat’ underground irrigation system), its main social institution (the ‘buneh’ cooperative organisation of agricultural production), and its ethical framework (Zoroastrianism and Islam). To some extent, the pre-modern paradigm has been more compatible with the ecological and social requirements of the country than the current paradigm of industrial modernity. This paradigm can be identified by the partial replacement of ‘qanats’ by deep well and large dams, the substitution of the ‘buneh’ by a system of smallholding, and the emergence of a mechanistic worldview with important ethical ramifications. Since the 1960s and 70s, industrial modernity has gradually given way to what has come to be known as ‘reflexive modernity’. Recently, this turn can also be recognized in Iran. Here, the new paradigm is still in its first stage, and must be developed and conceptualized in terms of new technical systems of water management, of corresponding social institutions and of a new ethical framework that is sensitive to the specific features of the region. The traditional structures need to be revitalized and integrated with the structures of industrial modernity, in such a way that the benefits and advantages of both will be preserved as much as possible. We will present a sketch of what we consider to be the main contours of the new paradigm: a complementary system of traditional and modern methods of water provision, a participatory water resources management, and a ‘post-mechanistic’ ethical framework that encourages sustainable development through collective action and decision-making
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationProceedings of the 5th IWHA Conference
    EditorsI. Hautamäki, P. Juuti, T. Katko, R. Rajala, E. Vinnari
    ISBN (Print)9789514469718
    Publication statusPublished - 2007
    Event5th IWHA Conference, Tampere, Finland -
    Duration: 13 Jun 200717 Jun 2007


    Conference5th IWHA Conference, Tampere, Finland


    Dive into the research topics of 'Water management paradigms in Iran: technical, social and ethical aspects'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this