International Training Course on Qanat

International Training Course on Qanat: a Cooperative Water Extraction System in Arid and Semi-Arid Regions

International Training Course on Qanat: a Cooperative Water Extraction System in Arid and Semi-Arid Regions University of Tehran, Faculty of Geography UNESCO International Center on Qanats and Historic Hydraulic Structures (UNESCO-ICQHS) 5 - 11 December, 2015


A Qanat is a gently sloping subterranean canal, which taps a water-bearing zone at a higher elevation than cultivated lands. Qanats are environmentally sustainable water harvesting and conveyance techniques through which groundwater can be obtained without causing damage to the tapped aquifer. In the course of history, qanats have been used to meet the demand for water in many arid and semi-arid regions of the world. This technology has given rise to the so-called Qanat Civilization.

The success of the qanats as a sustainable technology to harvest groundwater is impressive and well documented. However qanats are not mere water harvesting and conveyance systems, but social systems that manage water in a sustainable manner. The success of the technological system is thus mirrored by its success as a social system. In a world where water conflict is common, the social institutions created allowed for peaceful and cooperative management of water in arid regions of the world. For this reason, the experience of the qanats can provide many valuable lessons regarding the social institutions needed as the world faces increasing scarcity of water.   



Cooperation in qanats can be seen from their construction to their maintenance and the management of the water conveyed. A qanat is a geographically extended system being sometimes tens of kilometers long. In fact a qanat gallery cuts through a variety of geological formations, runs beneath many human settlements and cultivated lands and is subject to numerous potential threats. Therefore a qanat cannot be built, maintained and operated just by an individual but it demands vast cooperation from the community. Moreover, the water conveyed by the qanat is shared by hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of users. In an arid region, such sharing of water requires enormous cooperation. And such cooperation is not possible without an efficient and equitable management of the water.


Hence from their construction to the last drop of water from its gallery, the qanat requires cooperation from all stakeholders. However such cooperation does not occur in a vacuum but rather is derived from and is consistent with society’s existing social institutions and values. Thus qanat water management, and the social cooperation it requires, reflects the society in which it exists. However, given the massive cooperation required for a qanat to be sustainable, it is also true that the qanat must develop new social institutions that, while consistent with existing social values and institutions, also extend and apply them to new areas of cooperation. And by so doing, the social institutions fostered by the qanat may also spread to the other realms of social life and thus becomes part of the social capital of that society.


Not only has the qanat fostered cooperation within societies, but it has also fostered cooperation between societies.  Throughout history qanat technology has crossed borders and cultures, taking with it a set of social institutions designed to resolve water conflict and promote the peaceful sharing of water.  For example, approximately one thousand years ago Zobeydeh, the Abbasid caliph’s wife, dispatched a team of qanat workers from Iran to Mecca, in today’s Saudi Arabia, to build a qanat to quench the thirst of the Moslem pilgrims. Centuries earlier the Achaemenid kings had the Persian soldiers dig qanats in Egypt to extract groundwater where no surface water was available, leaving behind a technology and a heritage of cooperation. In the medieval times Moslems introduced qanat to the north of Africa and later to the south of Europe, which was brought to the new world by the European explorers centuries later. Thus qanat knowledge, and its associated culture, was transmitted from nation to nation in the course of history. The above examples from history demonstrate that qanats have been vehicles of cooperation between different nations and cultures, and thus helped pave the way for mutually beneficial interaction between them, rather than the type of conflict that has too often plagued history. In this sense, Qanat can are a symbol of international cooperation and the peaceful and sustainable sharing of a valuable resource.  Thus, like the Olympic flame, qanat knowledge, and its associated culture, was handed from nation to nation.


The long and sustained physical and social success of qanats is impressive and is a testament to the social cooperation they have achieved within a culture. And this heritage of social cooperation has been exported all over the world, as Qanats can be found in more than 40 countries. This conference will highlight the peaceful social cooperation qanats have provided, so as to preserve the legacy of cooperation they have left the entire world, and learn from that legacy how water, and other scare resources, can be peacefully shared in the future.



The main objectives of the conference are to:

1-     Acquaint the trainees with technical and social concepts of qanat

2-     Review the geographical studies ever conducted on qanat system in Iran and in the world

3-     Indentify intercultural interactions regarding qanat technology

4-     Examine different aspects of cooperation and social convergence in qanat

5-     Explore historical records and archeological evidence on the geographical diffusion of qanat in world and the role of nations in spreading qanats



Tentative conference themes

1.      Physical description and indigenous engineering of qanat construction and maintenance

2.      Social institutions to manage water, including water rights, water distribution, and water markets

3.      Origin of qanat and history of its geographical diffusion

4.      Lessons from qanat to solve water conflicts and promote peace and cooperation

5.      The role of qanats in facilitating social cooperation and sustainable development

6.      The influence of qanat social institutions on other elements of society

7.      Ethical aspects of qanat water management

8.      Role of qanat in rural economy


Venue and Date

The venue is UNESCO International Center on Qanats and Historic Hydraulic Structures, Yazd, Iran. The course will take place from 5 to 11 December, 2015.



Participants can be:

1- Engineers and experts who work for the ministries of water, agriculture, municipality, environment and culture

2-   All experts dealing with qanat – related projects

3- Members of NGOs, green groups and indigenous knowledge centers who are concerned about sustainable hydraulic systems

4-   Postgraduate students and faculty members



The participants should be registered. The registered participants are requested to pay a fee which covers their training, publications, accommodation, meals, refreshments and tours during the conference.


Visa requirement

Participants are required to obtain an entry visa to Iran. The invitation letter will be issued by the organizers to facilitate the visa procedure.


Scientific Staff

Dr. A. A Semsar Yazdi (ICQHS, Yazd/Iran)

Dr. Mohammad Salmani (University of Tehran, Tehran/Iran)

Dr. Seyyed Ali Badri (University of Tehran, Tehran/Iran)

Dr. Papoli Yazdi (Amri-kabir Research Institute, Mashhad/Iran)

Mr. Majid Labbaf Khaneiki (ICQHS, Yazd/Iran)







University of Tehran, Faculty of Geography

International Center on Qanats and Historic Hydraulic Structures (UNESCO Category II Center)

UNESCO Tehran Cluster Office


Contact Details

● Dr. Seyyed Ali Badri

Associate Professor

Faculty of Geography

University of Tehran

Tel: +98 912 458 1787


● Mr. Majid Labbaf Khaneiki

Senior Expert

International Center on Qanats & Historic Hydraulic Structures (ICQHS)


Tel: +98 351 8250553

Fax: +98 351 8241690


News code: 28
  News Date : 2015-07-29



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