Harnessing indigenous knowledge for climate change-resilient water management – lessons from an ethnographic case study in Iran
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 regional water management to the resource governance of arid regions across the world. We explore, through qualitative analysis, the relationship between community social structure, indigenous knowledge, water management technologies and practices, and water governance rules under conditions of anthropogenic climate change. From participant observational and interview data (n = 32), we find that historically-dependent community roles establish a social contract for water distribution. Cultural conventions establish linked hierarchies of water ownership, profit-sharing and social responsibility; collectively they construct an 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 hierarchical land ownership-based water distribution and what we term ‘bilateral compensatory mutual assistance’ for the lowest-profit agricultural water users, provides a model of spontaneous common pool resource management that bolsters community drought resilience. We use this case to proffer recommendations for adapting other centralized, grey infrastructure and regulatory models of water management from lessons learned from this spontaneous adaptive management case.