An Aug. 12 Public Radio International interview with Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, notes that Iran in 2009 quietly appealed for help from the US in managing a severe water crisis—and suggests that the need for assistance from American hydrologists was the secret lubricants behind the US-Iran nuclear agreement. "The conversation between Iran and the United States over water has extended back more than a decade before 2009," Gleick said. "There have always been contacts at the university level, and at the level of the National Academy of Sciences, between the countries about water efficiency, water conservation, water technologies and how to manage droughts. As the water situation in the Middle East has gotten worse, the interest has gotten higher." Growing usage and an ongoing drought have meant a severe and worsening water crisis for Iran over the past 15 years. Two years ago, a study by the World Resources Institute ranked Iran as the world's 24th most water-stressed nation. (This timeline from The Guardian shows the trajectory of the nuclear talks, which began secretly in early 2013, and were formalized later that year.)
The Arab Struggle website, which promotes the movement of the Ahwazi Arab minority in Iran's southwest, says they are being especially hard-hit by the water crisis. Fish and other aquatic life in the Hor al-Azim marshlands are being devastated by the heavy and unmonitored discharge from petrochemical plants in the region. Ahwazi fishermen have for generations made their living from the waters of the Hor al-Azim, and are now threatened with destitution. Additionally, the regime has dammed many of the waterways in the region, diverting waters to Persian-populated areas, turning previously lush farmland to desert.
The Ahwazi are essentially the same people as the Ma'adan or "Marsh Arabs" of southern Iraq, who suffered similar treatment under Saddam Hussein. Some progress has been made in restoring their wetland territory since Saddam's fall, but the symmetry is all too telling: oppressed by Saddam as Shi'ites and oppressed by Tehran as Arabs. Like many peoples whose homeland is now divided by international borders, they get it from both sides.