Key Figures | Reference Map | General Information | Demography | Geography | Governing System | Economy | History of Disasters | Disaster and response preparedness measures | Humanitarian response operations | Sources
||: 83.9 Million (2020 estimate)
||: 1,648,195 km²
||: Persian (53%), Azerbaijani and other Turkic dialects (18%), Kurdish (10%)
|Number of provinces
||: 31 provinces
||: 463.1 billion USD (2020 estimate)
|GDP per capita
||: 5,503 USD (2020 estimate)
|Average life expectancy
||: 76.7 years (2020 estimate)
|Human Development Index
||: Index - 0.797, Rank – 65
||: 85.54% (as of 2016)
Iran, officially known as the Islamic republic of Iran, known as Persia until 1935, became an Islamic republic in 1979, when the Iranian revolution ended the rule of the Shah, and clerics assumed political control under supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini.
Iran was one of the greatest empires of the ancient world, and the country has maintained a distinct cultural identity within the Islamic world by keeping its own language and adhering to the Shia interpretation of Islam.
Tehran, a megapolis with a population of around 13 million (2016 census), is the capital. It is an economic and cultural center and the hub of the country's communication and transport network.
Iran population is equivalent to 1.08 per cent of the total world population. Iran is a multicultural country comprising numerous ethnic and linguistic groups, the largest being Persians (61 per cent), Azeris (16 per cent), Kurds (10 per cent), and Lurs (6 per cent). Iran’s population witnessed a rapid increase in the last 50 years. Iran has experienced a youth bulge in the past few decades with almost half of the population currently under 30 years of age, one-third of whom are between 15 – 29.
However, recent years have seen a decrease in Iran’s birth rate with population growth reaching 1.39 per cent as of 2018. Studies project a continued growth slowdown until stabilization around 105 million by 2050. The country is simultaneously experiencing an increasing elderly population with a growing average life expectancy at birth of approximately 77 years. Additionally, Iran is home to one of the largest refugee populations in the world, hosting more than one million refugees – primarily from Afghanistan (95 per cent). Apart from its migration trends, Iran also demonstrates one of the sharpest urban growth rates in the world, with approximately 73.4 per cent of the population residing in urban areas.
Iran covers a total area of about 1.65 million km2. The country is bordered by Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea and Turkmenistan to the north, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east, the Gulf of Oman, the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf to the south, and Iraq and Turkey to the west. About 52 percent of the country land consists of mountains and deserts and 16 per cent of the country has an elevation of more than 2000 m above sea level.
The 1979 Revolution in Iran led to the establishment of the Islamic Republic. The post-Revolution political system in Iran consists of elements of a parliamentary democracy that is examined and supervised by a theocracy governed by the ‘Supreme Leader’ who exercises ultimate authority. The most powerful position in Iran is held by the spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but three other centers of power are determined by popular vote: the president, the Assembly of Experts and the parliament. Legislative elections are held to elect members of the Islamic Consultative Assembly/ Parlament every four years, the last of which was in April 2016.
The Supreme Leader assigns the heads of the judiciary and military. He also confirms the election of the president. Hassan Rouhani was re-elected in May 2017 as voters backed his efforts to reach out to the world and rebuild the struggling economy. Rouhani spearheaded the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Iran's economy is substantially centralized and based on the public sector. Government revenue relies on the country's oil and gas exports. Iran has the fifth-highest total estimated value of natural resources, of around US$27.3 trillion including 10% of the world's oil reserves and 15 per cent of natural gas reserves.
The recession in Iran accelerated in 2019/20. Iran’s GDP decreased by 7.6 per cent in the first 9 months of 2019/20 due to a 37 per cent decrease in the oil sector. In 2018, oil production has decreased reaching a record low of 2 mbpd in December 2019. Non-oil GDP growth in Apr-Dec 2019 was close to zero. In the same period, non-oil industries increased by 2 per cent driven by construction and the utilities sectors. The recent COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted trade, tourism and retail business during the busiest period for travel and commerce.
Facing the pandemic, low oil prices and increasing sanctions, Iran’s GDP growth is expected to remain low in 2020/21-2022/23. The baseline outlook is primarily driven by COVID-19 outbreak reducing oil and non-oil GDP in 2020/21.
Iran ranked first in scientific growth in the world in 2011 and has one of the fastest rates of development in telecommunication globally. Iran also is the world's 18th largest by purchasing power parity (PPP) and has high development potential. A unique feature of Iran's economy is the presence of large religious foundations; whose combined budgets represent more than 30 per cent of central government spending.
History of disasters
Recent climate changes have already further exacerbated both frequency and severity of disasters keeping Iran as one of the high-risk countries worldwide. Iran is a disaster-prone country and is dealing with a very wide range of natural disasters including those related to several hydro-meteorological hazards like droughts and floods. All these disasters cause a substantial loss in human lives and the disruption of the economy. In addition, they severely devastate agricultural and livestock activities endangering food security and livelihood in the most affected areas.
Academics predict that Iran is expected to face more extended durations of extreme maximum temperature in the southern areas of the countries as well as wet conditions with a high frequency of flood occurrence. Scientific research predicts that some locations of Iran might face limited habitability in case of a lack of adaptability measures.
Iran is one of the most seismically active countries in the world with three active faults. Almost 77% of urban centers in Iran are located in high earthquake risk areas (magnitude of 6 - 8 on the Richter scale). At least 126,000 people have died due to 65 earthquakes of magnitudes between 6 - 7 since 1900 including 60% in the past three decades only.
Although historical data suggests that the frequency of major earthquakes is every 2-3 years, this rate has now become more frequent. There is always an inevitable risk of earthquake mega-disasters in the capital and other major metropolitan areas of the country, with a significant impact on the affected areas.
Hydrometeorological hazards and severe weather events
Water scarcity and severe droughts due to climate change pose serious threats to Iran, especially when combined with sandstorms in eastern parts of the country. Floods, sandstorms (and even snowstorms in northern parts) have become major problems in East and South-East Iran. More than one third (36%) of the 877 urban centers in Iran are in flood prone areas. Artificial alteration of waterways and climate change could also be contributing factors to the increased risk of flooding. On the other hand, drought is a recurrent phenomenon in Iran and is likely to occur more often in the future as a result of global warming. Droughts have caused severe consequences and financial damages estimated at $8 billion.
For the second consecutive year, locust swarms are threatening widespread destruction across southern Iran’s farmland. In 2020, Desert Locust has affected more than 54,600 hectares of land in 8 provinces. So far, the combined swarm has damaged at least 4.8 million tonnes of agricultural products in the country. According to the recent trend of breeding, hatchings and forming of the desert locust, a wider area of land on the Persian Gulf, Hormozgan coast, and the south-western and south-eastern coasts will be further affected if not effectively managed. At least, $ 4 million is required to continue to combat the desert locust with pesticides until August 2020.
Disaster and response preparedness measures
Eleven out of 18 UN agencies and partners operating in Iran have a development rather than humanitarian focus, with limited capacity in terms of disaster response. The primary actors in managing the response to natural disasters (earthquakes, floods) are the military (Regular Army and IRGC through Passive Defense Organization - PDO), Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS), Tehran Disaster Mitigation and Management Organization (TDMMO) and the National Disaster Management Organization (NDMO). Part of UN agencies’ operations includes supporting these national disaster management authorities and strengthening resilience to deal with disasters.
OCHA's regional office for the Middle East and North Africa region (ROMENA) supports emergency response activities in Iran. An OCHA Humanitarian Affairs Officer (HAO) is based in Tehran and works on a daily basis with relevant authorities to help the Disaster Management Team (DMT) prepare for and respond to humanitarian emergencies. The HAO serves as the DMT Secretariat and an advisor to the DMT Chairperson.
The country has set an early warning system for hydrologic hazards and their impacts on the population and economy. Iranian Meteorological Organization is legally responsible for providing early warning to the government focal points. However, NDMO at national and provincial levels is responsible for sharing this information and activating response tools.
In Iran, the light USAR teams are part of the IRCS while Emergency Medical Teams (EMTs) are under the MoHME. Iran is not yet a member of INSARAG and has not joined the UNDAC mechanism. Nevertheless, Iran has attended international INSARAG simulation exercises (SIMEX) to increase familiarity with and encourage joining the two mechanisms. The UNRC in Iran leads the DMT to coordinate preparedness and resilience efforts. The DMT has implemented the emergency response plan (ERP) process in Iran and has developed a contingency plan for a major earthquake in the Tehran urban area. OCHA currently has a Plan of Action with Iran focusing on increasing Iran’s response capacity.
In early 2020, a joint mission of the Capacity for Disaster Reduction Initiative (CADRI) conducted system-wide consultations with all relevant stakeholders within different sectors in Iran. The mission was an opportunity to identify areas where the UN system can support the government coordinated with other UN initiatives in this area. It did a comprehensive UN portfolio analysis and capacity diagnosis that could conclude key priorities and challenges agreed by the government and partners. Accordingly, the mission report came with recommendations to inform the revision of the National DRR Strategy.
Humanitarian response operations
There are 18 resident and 8 non-resident UN Agencies and entities engaged in Iran: of which 3 deliver primarily humanitarian support (UNHCR, WFP and IOM). OCHA is represented by an in-country national Humanitarian Advisory Team (HAT) to support the UN Resident Coordinator (RC), and the UN Disaster Management Team (DMT), in humanitarian emergency preparedness to respond as needed.
The UN System in Iran, in close collaboration with its partners, remained at the forefront of providing humanitarian support to vulnerable populations in 2019, in the form of response to the floods that affected 25 out of the 31 Provinces in the country with an estimated 2 million needing humanitarian assistance, and in provision of ongoing assistance to the vulnerable refugee population and migrants.
A total of 113 earthquakes of magnitude of 4 and above were recorded during the first half of 2020 alone. As a result, at least two people lost their lives, 186 people were injured, and 3,580 buildings were damaged. The latest major humanitarian response operation to the aftermath of a destructive earthquake in Iran was the Kermanshah earthquake in November 2017 when 630 died, more than 8,000 injured and at least 70,000 lost their homes. The operation resulted in widespread inter-agency collaboration between UN agencies, IRCS, and NGOs to deliver relief and assistance to the most affected areas. The IRCS devised a Joint Operational Plan to aid the victims of the earthquake and as the lead in the rescue operations, the IRCS deployed massive resources. The UN missions expressed their readiness to join the IRCS in its commitment to helping the earthquake victims through a number of projects and the provision of aid in the form of shelters and psychological support. Following the earthquake, the Get Airports Ready for Disaster (GARD) initiative was held at the Mehrabad Airport with OCHA/UNDP facilitation in 2017 to ensure that airports are prepared for future natural disasters.
In March 2019, Iran received heavy rainfall resulting in massive floods that affected more than 10 million people in 25 out of the 31 provinces, with an estimated 2 million in need of assistance. Upon the Government’s request, the UN extended its support to the most affected people. The OCHA-managed Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) was immediately tapped into, and USD $1.9 million was mobilized for emergency response. The UN put together a Response Plan amounting to USD $25 million covering emergency and early recovery needs of 115,000 highly vulnerable people. USD $12.5 million were mobilized for the Health, WASH, Early Recovery/Livelihoods, Shelter, Protection, Education, and Food Security sectors. After the floods, for the first time in the country, a Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) was conducted by the UN in July-August 2019, in close coordination with the government.
By September 2020, over 406,000 hectares of land have been chemically treated across the country. The presence and density of desert locust have been decreased as the pest migrated to summer-breeding areas at the borders with Pakistan and India. However, there are still serious concerns that this pest on its way back in November may infest the country again.
World Population Prospects (WPP), World Economic Outlook Database, International Monetary Fund, UNESCO Institute of Statistics