As drought grips Iran, farmers lament loss of a way of life

Watermelons once sprung from this soil, the giant striped fruit dotting the arid landscape like mushrooms after a rain.

“It was such a garden,” farmer Hossain Mirakhouri, 45, recalled of his childhood on this sun-scorched plateau east of Tehran.

Now nothing remains of his family’s patch of watermelon, a water-hungry crop that Mirakhouri can no longer afford to grow in increasingly dry conditions. He and his brothers, who farm a 2-acre homestead by hand much as their ancestors did, have switched to growing barley and genetically modified cotton, which they say have lower water requirements.

“The amount of land that is cultivable shrinks year in, year out,” said Mirakhouri, sweat beading on his stubbled chin.

Iran’s worsening water crisis has spread desperation across this parched farm belt. Families watch sons leave the villages to hunt for scarce work in the cities. Crops are abandoned. The elderly and infirm forego medical care because they barely have enough money to survive.

Like their counterparts in California’s Central Valley and elsewhere around the world, Iran’s farmers have struggled with several successive years of drought. But environmental mismanagement, water overuse, the pressures of population growth and a government more concerned with security and economic challenges have exacerbated Iran’s agricultural problems.

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