During one month and 10 days of relentless summer heat, Sepideh, a doctor in southern Iran, and her dentist husband left the house only for work (and only in the morning) and for groceries (and only when the refrigerator was completely bare). At one point last week, her car’s dashboard thermometer read 57 degrees Celsius, about 135 degrees Fahrenheit.

She took a photo for Instagram. “Only 57 degrees!” she posted.

At least she had air conditioning at home, a necessity not available to everyone. A combination of increasing poverty and rising heat is crushing much of southern Iran, where a sprawling desert, coupled with the humidity of the nearby Persian Gulf, is especially prone to heat waves and droughts intensified by climate change.

Although the mercury was lower elsewhere in the country, the misery was still great. Iranians have few ways to cope: The government’s long-standing mishandling of water resources has left faucets across the country running salty or dry, experts say, while Iran’s stalled economy and double-digit inflation have deepened poverty that puts indoor jobs and air conditioning out of reach for many.

Iran is suffering from what Kaveh Madani, a United Nations water expert who previously served as deputy head of Iran’s environment ministry, calls a “water bankruptcy,” in which, he said, misguided policies promoting agriculture and development have caused water consumption to exceed supply for so long that there is no way to reverse the depletion.

As groundwater and reservoirs dry up, droughts intensify and climate change pushes temperatures higher. Iranians in rural areas are increasingly unable to afford the trucked or purchased water they must rely on. Water shortages fueled protests in the historic city of Isfahan and in Khuzestan Province in 2021, and more discontent with the government is building over its failure to deal with the blistering heat.

“The government does nothing: no services, no advice, no special care,” said Zahra, 32, an artist in the southern coastal city of Bandar-e Dayyer, where taps have been spewing salty, undrinkable water this summer. “We have to take care of ourselves,” added Zahra, who, like other Iranians interviewed for this article, asked to be identified by only her first name to avoid problems with the authorities.

Among those who lack running water are patients Sepideh saw this summer in the villages around Masjed Soleyman, her hometown in western Iran. Villagers were forced to turn to wells, which she said were choked with dead rats, lizards and cockroaches.

“All I see around me is misery and poverty,” she said. “I wish I could say something hopeful. This, however, is the reality.”

Government officials said the impoverished, rural southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan — where last month a member of parliament said it was so hot that a street lamp in one city ​​was melted – the city water will run out completely before September.

In Bandar Kangan, a southwestern city on the Gulf coast, water was cut off on summer days from late afternoon until 5 or 6 in the morning, said Azam, 39, a teacher who lives there. In recent years, however, the taps have been running for only a few hours each morning.

“We save water in our tanks and have learned how to use minimal water,” he said. “Actually, there’s no water to waste at all.”

Adapting to the scorching heat and suffocating humidity is something that people across southern Iran learned to do long ago: to go out only early in the morning or late at night, to meet friends by rivers and canals.

They know that a few hours in such heat can mean headache, weakness, dizziness and a sunscreen-challenging burn; that the humidity can make it feel as if they are inhaling steam with each breath; that even the water flowing from the taps during the day can burn; that plastic slippers left outside will warp in the sun; that sunglasses left in the car all day can melt.

Last Sunday, humidity and high temperatures merged for a heat index of 152 degrees Fahrenheit at the Persian Gulf Airport on the southern coast of Iran, a double-induced heat that passed the limits of what humans can tolerate. In Bushehr, a coastal province that includes Bandar Kangan, schools and offices closed for one day this month in response to a forecast of 122 degrees and limited their hours on other days.

But many workers have no choice but to endure the sun.

One video posted on a Telegram channel called the Free Union of Iranian Workers showed a man in Asaluyeh, another town in Bushehr province, who said he had to work outside from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day.

“This is a working man’s situation,” he said. “We die a hundred times a day.”

For those who can, the simplest adaptation is to hide in the air conditioner and hope to avoid the power cuts that plague southern Iran every summer.

The ancient Persians who lived on the land that is now Iran probably have pioneered the use of wind traps, tall towers that catch cool winds and channel them to cool buildings, thousands of years before electricity. Although wind catchers are now gaining currency among climate-conscious architects in other countries, air conditioning won long ago in Iran.

“We hardly leave our houses,” said Zahra, the artist. “So I can’t compare the heat with previous summers. All I can say is it boils.”

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