Tube wells compete within the Abarkooh basin resulting in an annual drop of 80 cm in groundwater level.
Water Cooperation and Ideology in Local Communities


  • Majid Labbaf Khaneiki University of Nizwa
  • Abdullah Saif Al-Ghafri University of Nizwa




This article addresses how ideology affects local water governance, focusing on a groundwater basin in central Iran. It offers a case study of a symbiotic relationship between upstream and downstream communities, allowing a sustainable form of water governance. The cooler weather, better pastures and greater amount of precipitation of the basin upstream drew nomadic communities, whose economy was not dependent on irrigation. Downstream, fertile soil and warm weather favored agriculture with a high demand for water that was supplied by the groundwater transferred from the basin upstream. The exchange of livestock products and agricultural goods between the basin’s upstream and downstream areas systematically tied their economic systems. However, Iran’s 1979 revolution brought a hybrid leftist-Islamist ideology that unbalanced this traditional relationship through the reorganization of geographical space. The upstream communities were encouraged to cultivate their pastures, which led to a boom in the number of irrigation wells. The downstream villages were persuaded to adopt a new cropping pattern that turned most of their water-efficient vineyards into apricot orchards with high water demands. Therefore, an abrupt increase in water demand in the basin upstream and downstream thwarted the cooperation between the two areas and drove the basin into “the tragedy of the unmanaged commons.”

How to Cite

Khaneiki, M. L., & Al-Ghafri, A. S. (2023). Water Cooperation and Ideology in Local Communities. Blue Papers, 2(1), 144–153.





methodologies and case studies

Author Biographies

Majid Labbaf Khaneiki, University of Nizwa

Majid Labbaf Khaneiki is a human geographer who specializes in traditional irrigation and hydro-social cycles in rural communities. He has conducted or cooperated with over twenty research projects on water issues in Oman, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, India and Azerbaijan. He is the author of 13 books about traditional water management, water cooperation and indigenous water knowledge. He is currently an assistant professor at the University of Nizwa in Oman, where he is conducting a research project on the interplay between water systems and social structures in local communities.

Abdullah Saif Al-Ghafri, University of Nizwa

Abdullah Saif Al-Ghafri received his PhD in environmental resources (water management) from Hokkaido University in Japan in 2004. He has published many articles on aflaj systems and traditional irrigation in Oman. His interdisciplinary research focuses on Oman’s local communities, where a triangle of water, technique and society turns an uninhabitable desert into prosperous oases. He is currently a professor in charge of the UNESCO Chair of Aflaj Studies and Archaeo-hydrology.


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