Harnessing indigenous knowledge for climate change-resilient water management – lessons from an ethnographic case study in Iran

Ghorbani Mehdi, Hamed Eskandari-Damaneh, Matthew Cotton, Omid Ghoochani, Moslem Borji

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Through an in-depth ethnographic case study, we explore water management practices within the Jiroft County province in Iran and discuss the applicability of indigenous knowledge of locally-based sustainable water management initiatives to the resource governance challenges of arid and drought-prone regions across the world. The relationship between community social structure, indigenous knowledge, water management technologies and practices, and their collective role in sustainable natural resource governance in the face of anthropogenic climate change are explored through qualitative analysis. From participant observational and interview data (n=32), we find that historically dependent community roles create a social contract that governs water sharing and distribution. Defined social roles and cultural conventions establish linked hierarchies of water ownership, profit-sharing and social responsibility; collectively they provide a flexible and equitable system of role-sharing, social benefit distribution, socio-ecological resilience and adaptive capacity in the face of climate change-induced drought. We conclude that the combination of a hierarchical land ownership-based water distribution mechanism combined with what we term “bilateral compensatory mutual assistance” for the lowest profit agricultural water users, provides a model of spontaneous common pool resource management that fosters community drought resilience. We use this case to proffer recommendations for adapting other centralized, grey infrastructure and regulatory models of water management based upon lessons learned from this spontaneous adaptive management model shown in this case.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)766-779
JournalClimate and Development
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 4 Feb 2021


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