Water supply and sanitation in Iran
|Iran: Water and Sanitation|
|Water coverage (broad definition)||99% in urban areas|
|Sanitation coverage (narrow definition)||19% in urban areas|
|Continuity of supply (%)||n/a|
|Average urban water use (l/c/d)||n/a|
|Average urban water tariff (US$/m3)||US$ 0.06/m3 (2002)|
|Share of household metering||n/a|
|Annual investment in WSS||n/a|
|Share of self-financing by utilities||n/a|
|Share of tax-financing||n/a|
|Share of external financing||n/a|
|Decentralization||Partial, at provincial level|
|National water and sanitation company||Not for service provision|
|Water and sanitation regulato||None|
|Responsibility for policy setting||Ministry of Energy (Iran)|
|Number of urban service providers||30|
|Number of rural service providers||30|
This article reflects the situation as of November 2008, with minor updates after that date. Please feel free to update the article further.
Water supply and sanitation in Iran has witnessed some important improvements, especially in terms of increased access to urban water supply, while important challenges remain, particularly concerning sanitation and service provision in rural areas. Institutionally, the Ministry of Energy is in charge of policy and provincial companies are in charge of service provision.
- 1 Access
- 2 Water resources
- 3 History and recent developments
- 4 Achievements and challenges
- 5 Responsibility for water supply and sanitation
- 6 Financial aspects
- 7 External cooperation
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Additional reading
- 11 External links
The sector is characterized by a wide discrepancy in coverage of water and sewerage services, as well as between urban and rural areas. The Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) for water supply and sanitation of the WHO and UNICEF, which monitors access figures based on national surveys and censuses, estimated access in Iran from the 1996 census and a 1997 cluster survey. According its esimates, access to an improved source of water supply was 99% in urban areas where two thirds of Iranians live. It was 84% in rural areas (69% house connections). Access to sewerage in urban areas was estimated at 19%. There is no estimate for access to adequate sanitation (including septic tanks and improved latrines).
Climate Rainfall in Iran is highly seasonal, with a rainy season between October and March, leaving the land parched for the remainder of the year. Immense seasonal variations in flow characterize Iran's rivers. For example, the Karun River in Khuzestan carries water during periods of maximum flow that is ten times the amount borne in dry periods. In numerous localities, there may be no precipitation until sudden storms, accompanied by heavy rains, dump almost the entire year's rainfall in a few days. Water shortages are compounded by the unequal distribution of water. Near the Caspian Sea, rainfall averages about 1,280 mm per year, but in the Central Plateau and in the lowlands to the south it seldom exceeds 100 mm.
Water availability. Internal renewable water resources are estimated at 128.5 billion cubic meters (BCM)/year (average for 1977-2001). Surface runoff represents a total of 97.3 BCM/year, of which 5.4 BCM/year comes from drainage of the aquifers and thus needs to be subtracted from the total. Groundwater recharge is estimated at about 49.3 BCM/year, of which 12.7 BCM/year is obtained from infiltration in the river bed and also needs to be subtracted. Iran receives 6.7 BCM/year of surface water from Pakistan and some water from Afghanistan through the Helmand River. The flow of the Arax river, at the border with Azerbaijan, is estimated at 4.6 BCM/year. The surface runoff to the sea and to other countries is estimated at 55.9 BCM/year. Per capita water availability in the pre-Islamic Revolution era was about 4,500 cubic meters. But, in 2009 this figure was less than 2,000 cubic meters.
Dams. There are 42 large dams under operation in Iran with a combined storage capacity of 33 BCM/year. These dams lose about 200 million cubic meters of storage capacity every year due to sedimentation (0.5-0.75% of their storage capacity). Most dams are multi-purpose dams for hydropower, irrigation, flood control and - in some cases - drinking water supply.
Water use. The total water withdrawal was estimated at about 70 BCM in 1993, rising to 93 BCM in 2004, of which 92% was used for agricultural purposes, 6% for domestic use and 2% for industrial use. Although this is equal to 51% of the actual available renewable water resources, annual abstraction from aquifers (57 BCM in 1993, 53 BCM in 2004) is already more than the estimated safe yield (46 BCM). Of the 4.3 BCM/year in 1993 (6.2 in 2004) used for domestic purposes, 61% is supplied from surface water and 39% from groundwater. For example, Greater Tehran with its population of more than 13 million is supplied by surface water from the Lar dam on the Lar River in the Northeast of the city, the Latyan dam on the Jajrood River in the North, the Karaj River in the Northwest, as well as by groundwater in the vicinity of the city. Provinces of Gilan, Mazandaran and Isfahan have the highest efficiency of irrigation with 54, 52 and 42 percents respectively, and Khuzestan province has the lowest irrigation efficiency with 38 percent. Tap water consumption in the country is 70% over and above the global average. 16 BCM of water was used for power generation in 1999 from over 400 power plants producing 61,000 MW of electricity.
Infrastructure. Most drinking water in Iran is supplied through modern infrastructure, such as dams, reservoirs, long-distance transmission pipelines - some of which are more than 300 km long - and deep wells. An estimated 60,000 traditional Karez (کاریز) systems in the plateau regions of Iran in Yazd, Khorasan and Kerman - are still in use today for irrigation and drinking water supply in rural areas and small towns. The oldest and largest known Karez is in the Iranian city of Gonabad which after 2700 years still provides drinking and agricultural water to nearly 40,000 people. Its main well depth is more than 360 meters and its length is 45 kilometers. It is estimated that there are as many as 500,000 deep and shallow wells in the country.
Water pollution is caused by industrial and municipal wastewater, as well as by agriculture. Concerning municipal wastewater, the bulk of collected sewage is discharged untreated and constitutes a major source of pollution to groundwater and a risk to public health. In a number of cities without sanitary sewerage, households discharge their sewage through open rainwater drains.
History and recent developments
Up to 1990 the water and sanitation sector was highly decentralized. Most water and wastewater service provision was the responsibility of municipalities and provinces. This was changed through a fundamental sector reform in 1990 with the ratification of the Provincial Water and Wastewater Companies Law of September 1990.
In September 2003 the Government of Iran and the World Bank agreed on a sector strategy with the targets for improved cost recovery and collection and increased efficiency. It is not clear what were the baseline data in 2003 and to what extent progress has been made to reach these targets. 
In November 2008 the government announced that it has approved the construction of 177 dams nationwide. Dams in Iran serve primarily for hydropower generation, irrigation and flood control. However, one of the projects will provide drinking water and water for industrial use to the cities of Qom, Golpaygan, Delijan, Saveh, Khomein and Nimvar in the central provinces of Qom, Isfahan and Markazi.
Achievements and challenges
Since the 1980s access to urban water supply has increased from 75.5% to 98%. According to one Iranian observer, the water quantity supplied has increased and the quality has improved. He concludes that the reform has been “very successful” and is “an example of best practice” that should “be proposed to other countries.
However, a number of challenges remain. According to the World Bank, the sector is affected by “low water use efficiency in urban and rural uses; limited participation by stakeholders in development planning and management; large needs for rehabilitation and development of hydraulic infrastructure for sustainable water usage; problems of pollution caused by the discharge of untreated wastewater into public waterways and aquifers; and weak institutions involved in the sector and limited coordination among stakeholders.” Still according to the World Bank it is also characterized by “poor performance of water supply and on-site wastewater disposal facilities, causing increasing risk for ground and surface water pollution and health and environmental risks resulting from the discharge and re-use of untreated effluent for irrigation; limited technical, institutional and financial capacity of water and wastewater companies; a lack of clarity of institutional responsibilities of sector entities; and non transparent and inadequate tariff structures and levels.” 
Responsibility for water supply and sanitation
The Ministry of Energy, through its Deputy Ministry for Urban and Rural Water and Wastewater Management, is in charge of setting sector policies. The Deputy Ministry of Water Affairs in the same Ministry is in charge of water resources management, together with eleven Regional Water Boards. The Environmental Protection Organization is in charge of water pollution control. The Ministry of Health and Medical Education is responsible for setting drinking water quality standards, as well as monitoring and enforcing them. The National Water and Wastewater Engineering Company (NWWEC) provides oversight and assistance to service providers in areas such as investment planning, human resources development, and in the establishment of standardized systems and procedures. The National Economic Council sets tariff policy for the whole country, with some differentiation across regions.
In 2008 sixty companies were responsible for the provision of water and wastewater services. Evenly spread over Iran’s thirty provinces, each province has one urban and one rural water and wastewater company (WWC). The 60 companies had 38,000 employees. Only Tehran has two separate companies for water and sewerage. In all other provinces, water and sanitation services are provided together. The regional water boards provide bulk raw water through transmission pipelines to the water and wastewater companies, which treat and distribute it.
The state-owned WWCs are able to manage their day-to-day operations with a measure of autonomy where Managing Directors can make most decisions on operations and staffing within the limits of the centrally authorized staffing levels and with some flexibility to provide extra compensation to well performing employees. However, the WWCs do not control their own investment programs and, therefore, have limited scope to improve investment and operating efficiency and the level and quality of service. Moreover the WWCs have to follow an organizational model developed by the NWWEC and cannot select a model that would be more appropriate for their particular situation.
Until 2005, the national budget for the water sector stood at 1,400 billion rials while it has reached 3,500 billion rials (US$ 350 million using the official exchange rate) in 2008. This budget apparently includes multi-purpose dam and irrigation as well as water supply and sanitation. The government said in 2011 that investment needs stood at US$150 billion over the next 15 years, 20% of which should be financed by the private sector.
On average, the service providers do not recover operation and maintenance costs due to low tariffs and low bill collection. For example, the Provincial Water and Sewerage Companies for Ahwaz and Shiraz have been incurring significant net losses at least prior to 2004. The financial performance of the companies is further aggravated by high water losses of 38% in 2002/03 in Ahwaz and about 30% in Shiraz. Of the water that has been billed, only about 73% was collected in 2002/03 in Ahwaz, while it was higher in Shiraz.
The current urban tariff system is based on a fixed fee that depends on the size of the connection pipe and on the type of customer (household or other types), and on a volumetric charge based on increasing block-tariffs. The fixed fee, or the subscription fee, was about 2,000 Rials in 2004 (25 US cents) for most domestic customers while the structure of variable tariffs is based on a complex formula. The formula is the same for all companies and there is no volumetric charge if consumption falls below 5 cubic meter per month. Above this minimum, the tariff increases with the level of consumption and generally varies across companies. The average volumetric tariff for the country stood at about 6 US cents in 2002. It varied from 2 cents for monthly consumption below 20 cubic meter, to about 4.5 cents and 12.5 cents respectively for 20-40 and for more than 40 cubic meter of monthly consumption.
According to the World Bank, the rate structure is needlessly complex for both volumetric rates and connection fees. Volumetric tariffs are based on complex formulas that differ across consumption brackets and water and wastewater companies. Because of this complexity the tariff structure lacks transparency. Moreover, the structure is such that rates increase by more than threefold when consumption rises from 20 cubic meter or less to slightly higher volumes. Regarding sewage bills they are currently levied and collected only in neighborhoods where a network exists and are a percentage of water bills (70%).
Average connection fees are about US$310 for the whole country and the minimum fee is approximately equal to US$l50. With a few exceptions, the connection fee for wastewater is the same as that for water. These fees have been regularly increased between 1999 and 2003, at the rate of 10% annually with the exception of the year 2000 in which the fee was increased by 15%. In addition to connection fees, the water and wastewater companies charge the customer the full cost for house connection.
The main external partner of the Iranian water and sanitation sector during the first decade of the 21st century was the World Bank. Today the main external partners are the Islamic Development Bank, the United Nations and NGOs.
Islamic Development Bank
UNESCO-IHE in Delft, The Netherlands, together with the Power and Water University of Technology (Shahid Abbaspour) in Iran, will train 2,100 Iranian professionals in water and wastewater technologies, planning and management. The training will consist of 59 courses to take place in 2008 and the first half of 2009. In addition, 20 study tours to European water and wastewater companies for senior managerial, financial and technical staff will be organised.
Foreign Non-governmental Organizations
Unlike other lower and middle-income countries, Iran hosts few private international non-governmental organizations that pursue environmental or social aims. Despite the difficult operating environment and friction with ruling bodies, the Iranian Government has moved to encourage an increased participation by foreign NGOs. As a result some organizations that closed operations have resumed their activities, and new startup organizations, including those that work in the areas of water and sanitation, have initiated projects in Iran. One such organization, Healing For Iran, recently launched a program to improve rural access to water and investigate the causes of water contamination in disadvantaged populations.
The World Bank began its engagement in water and sanitation in the Islamic Republic of Iran with the approval of the Tehran Sewerage Project in 2000, followed by the approval of two other projects in 2004 and 2005. Since then the World Bank has not approved any new projects in Iran. In 2010 it had only one active project in the Iranian water and sanitation sector:The Northern Cities Water Supply and Sanitation Project, approved in 2005 and supported by a US$ 224m loan, aims to enhance the quality of life in the four northern cities of Rasht and Anzali in Gilan Province, as well as Sari and Babol in Mazandaran Province. It aims to do so by improving the operational efficiency and financial sustainability of the two Provincial Water and Wastewater Companies (WWCs). The project will finance the extension and improvement of water distribution systems including metering, sanitary sewers, and a wastewater treatment plant (in Sari). It will also provide consultant services for institutional development and an environmental management plan.
The Ahvaz and Shiraz Water Supply and Sanitation Project, supported by a US$ 279m loan approved in 2004 and closed in 2009, aimed to improve access to satisfactory water supply and significantly increasing coverage o f sanitation services; and improve environmental, hygiene and health conditions, as well as promoting reuse of treated effluents. It also aimed to strengthen and develop the capacity of Ahvaz and Shiraz Water and Wastewater Companies, and assist the latter in improving their efficiency, sustainability and financial autonomy. It also aimed to initiate sector reforms, particularly with respect to institutional arrangements, the regulatory framework, demand management, as well as prepare a sanitation strategy.
The Tehran Sewerage Project, supported by a US$ 145m loan, closed in 2008. Its objective was to improve the environmental conditions in the Greater Tehran area through the installation of wastewater collection and treatment facilities, to improve public health, and enable unrestricted irrigation practices in the surrounding areas. Chlorination would disinfect effluents treated at the secondary level for suitable irrigation purposes, and a further tertiary treatment was to be extended if required. Treated effluents, and sludge were to be reused for agricultural purposes. The project allowed to connect more than 1.3 million people to the sewer system and to build a wastewater treatment plant that was completed in June 2009. A World Bank completion report concluded that the project reached its objectives and performed satisfactorily.
- List of reservoirs and dams in Iran
- Agriculture in Iran
- Traditional water sources of Persian antiquity
- International rankings of Iran
- JMP water and JMP sanitation
- Helen Chapin Metz, ed. Iran: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1987, Chapter "Water".
- FAO Aquastat Iran Country Report 1997
- World Resources Institute:Water Resources and Freshwater Ecosystems COUNTRY PROFILE - Iran
- Ministry of Energy, Water Research Institute:Sedimentation in the Reservoirs of Large Dams in Iran, 2000
- Seyed Ali Mamoudian, Secretary of the IWA National Committee for Iran: “Iran. Water and wastewater management across the country”, IWA Yearbook 2008, p. 28
- Kayhan:Changing Old Habits, quoting the leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei in his 2009 Norouz message
- United Nations:Freshwater and Sanitation Country Profile - The Islamic Republic of Iran, p. 4
- World Bank: Northern Cities Water Supply and Sanitation Project, p. 29-30
- World Bank: Ahwaz and Shiraz Water Supply and Sanitation Project, p. 18
Specifically there were four targets:
- Working ratio of 0.75 or less by the financial year 2008/09 (the working ratio is defined as operating expenses excluding
- Labor productivity reaching 3 by project completion (expressed as number of staff per
- IRNA:Iran: Government approves construction of 177 dams
- World Bank 2004: Ahwaz and Shiraz Water Supply and Sanitation Project p. 6
- United Nations:Freshwater and Sanitation Country Profile - The Islamic Republic of Iran, p. 1
- World Bank 2004: Ahwaz and Shiraz Water Supply and Sanitation Project p. 8
- UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education:Training and Capacity Building for the Water and Wastewater Sector in Iran, accessed on March 13, 2010
- World Bank:AHWAZ AND SHIRAZ WATER SUPPLY AND SANITATION PROJECT 2004, p. 195
- IRNA:Government approves construction of 177 dams, November 6, 2008
- Global Water Intelligence:Finding a private solution to underinvestment, May 2011, quoting a presentation by Ali Zabihi, Vice-Minister for Energy, at an International Conference on Water and Wastewater in Tehran
- World Bank 2004: Ahwaz and Shiraz Water Supply and Sanitation Project p. 14-15
- IRNA, quoting Iranian Deputy Energy Minister Mehdi Samareh-Hashemi, 16 October 2012
- UNHCR:Iran encourages more international NGOs to come and help refugees, May 8, 2009
- Healing For Iran: Iran's Water Crisis and Project Clean Water Community
- World Bank: Ahwaz and Shiraz Water Supply and Sanitation Project
- World Bank:Tehran sewerage project
- World Bank:IMPLEMENTATION COMPLETION AND RESULTS REPORT TEHRAN SEWERAGE PROJECT, June 29, 2009