JUN 06, 2017 11:14 AM PDT

Finding water tunnels beneath Iran's desert


Ever heard of the word "qanat"? A qanat is an underground channel used to transport water to the surface for irrigation and drinking. The word comes from the Semitic word "to dig" and it is estimated that the combined lengths of Iran's qanats would reach to the moon. Tapping into aquifers at the heads of valleys, the qanats transport water with the help of gravity over many kilometers in order to support agricultural and permanent settlements. The qanat system is so well designed that it provides equitable and sustainable water sharing for all the people of the region, creating the cornerstone of life in the harsh desert.

However, the sacred tradition of the qanat is threatened. Not as many people are aware of the "importance and value of this grand cultural heritage as a system that is getting life from nature and giving it back in harmony with nature," says Mr. Nabipour, the oldest water keeper in the region. It is for this reason that 102 year-old Nabipour has dedicated his life as a "Mirab," or someone who manages the water distribution system. For as long as he can remember, he has been teaching people the importance of the qanats and how to use them properly. His hope is to spur enough interest within the communities that depend on them to ensure their survival in the unique culture.
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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