Environmental degradation and civil unrest: Iran’s looming environmental bankruptcy

Author: Seyed Heisam Jorfi

Jorfi, Seyed Heisam, 2020 Environmental degradation and civil unrest: Iran’s looming environmental bankruptcy , Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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Iran has a long history of effective and sustainable water management in one of the driest regions of the world. Recently however, the country is experiencing an exacerbating environmental crisis, reflected by its disappearing lakes and rivers, groundwater resources depletion, pollution, desertification and drought, and growing water scarcity. This crisis has indeed become not only an environmental matter, but also an existential threat to the country. For that reason, some Iranian officials have warned that the environmental crisis may turn wide regions of the county into uninhabitable places and force 50 million Iranians to abandon their homes, villages and cities. Also, over the last ten years, many scientists, and national and international institutions have warned of a looming crisis deriving from Iran’s environmental degradation and resources scarcity. In particular, concerns have been raised of an imminent environmental collapse and the potential for social unrest, such as protests and riots caused by this environmental degradation.

This research will further interrogate to what extent have environmental factors such as drought, desertification, and water scarcity caused civil unrest in Iran. To answer this question, content and discourse analyses were adopted to review dozens of local and international media news published online between 2011-2019 that contained information regarding the motive and number of protests, riots and strikes in Iran. The results indicate that environmental factors such as drought, water scarcity, and desertification are both, directly and indirectly, causing civil unrest in the country. Furthermore, this thesis finds that the role of environmental factors in civil unrest is progressively increasing.

By looking at a broader spectrum of social conflict, rather than limiting the analysis to civil war, this research demonstrates a strong link between environmental change and unrest. The definition of conflict is also used in many various ways. Unlike the environmental security literature, this thesis uses a broader definition of conflict that encompasses, but is not limited to, social conflict, including protest, riots, strikes and anti-government violence. By doing so, it broadens the scope to better predict more intense and entrenched conflict, heightening the need for government to make real and immediate reform.

Keywords: Environmental degradation, climate change, scarcity, civil unrest, Iran

Subject: Geography thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2020
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Gerti Szili