Water Supply and Sanitation
In the mid-1980s, polluted water supplies remained one of the
main reasons for the high incidence of parasitic and gastrointestinal
diseases. Tehran and other large cities had chlorinated water
systems, but contaminated water has continued to be a major problem
in the smaller towns and villages. The disposal of waste also
remained unsatisfactory. Tehran in 1986 still did not have a sewage
system serving the entire city. Most of the other cities had only
partial sewage systems, and in small towns and villages there
were none at all.
Religious and social traditions profoundly influence attitudes
toward welfare. There is a general belief that fate determines
living conditions, but most Iranians feel an obligation to help
the needy in accordance with religious tenets. This idea has been
reinforced since the Revolution by the persistent exhortations
of the clergy to help the poorest people in society, the mostazafin.
The giving of alms (zakat) is one of the mandatory obligations
of the Islamic faith. As a consequence, donors of real property
and monetary bequests are anxious that their names be attached
to their gifts. Charitable donations may be distributed at any
time, but Friday, the day of congregational prayers, is regarded
as a particularly appropriate day, and even those of modest means
regularly distribute food to the poor.
There is a long history in Iran of wealthy individuals' bequeathing
part of their estates in the form of perpetual endowments, vaqfs,
for a specified charitable purpose (see Religious Institutions
and Organizations , this ch.). The last dynasty established the
Pahlavi Foundation, which funded programs ranging from low-cost
housing projects to the preservation of national relics. After
the Revolution, the government took over administration of the
Pahlavi Foundation and renamed it the Foundation for the Disinherited
(Bonyad-e Mostazafin). Some of its former programs, such as granting
scholarships and operating cooperatives, have been continued,
but others were redesigned or dropped entirely in favor of new
projects that are in accord with religious ideology.
Government-funded social insurance programs have not been as
important as the private vaqfs. The first workers in
the country to benefit from a public retirement program were government
employees. Legislation during the 1960s and 1970s provided for
the extension of social security benefits to broader categories
of employees, but by the time of the Revolution less than 10 percent
of the total work force was actually covered by social security.
The government of the Islamic Republic has said that extending
coverage to all employed persons is one of its priorities, but
as of 1986 no information was available about what measures may
have been adopted to extend coverage.
The first public housing projects were built in the 1960s in
the southern part of Tehran. These were developments of small,
single- family homes that were sold to the occupants at subsidized
cost over several years. Public housing projects expanded to other
cities during the 1970s. After the Revolution, the Republic continued
to budget funds for the construction of low-cost public housing,
although prior to 1985 its efforts in this area focused primarily
on the provision of interest-free, long-term loans to encourage
private construction on public land.
Since 1985 the government has built low-cost public housing,
particularly in Tehran and in large cities that suffered considerable
damage during the war, such as Ahvaz and Dezful. Priority for
such housing has been given to widows of men killed during the
This housing is an example of the kind of social program that
the revolutionary regime felt ideologically committed to provide
as a way of assisting the less fortunate, the mostazafin.
Other examples of concern for the poorer elements of society were
the construction of elementary schools, bathhouses, and health
clinics in villages and low- income urban areas and the emphasis
on religious charitable giving to the disadvantaged. This concern
for the deprived members of society was a traditional element
of Islam that had been neglected to a considerable degree under
the shah but which was being emphasized by the revolutionary government.
* * *
The most complete analysis of Iranian society prior to the Revolution
is Iran Between Two Revolutions by Ervand Abrahamian.
Roots of Revolution by Nikki R. Keddie is an excellent
study of the cultural tensions between the secularized middle
and upper classes and the religiously oriented bazaar class, and
it examines the relationship of this social conflict to the Revolution.
The background of Shia clerical opposition to secular state policies
is thoroughly examined in Shahrough Akhavi's Religion and
Politics in Contemporary Iran. The most detailed study of
social class divisions is Iran: Dictatorship and Development
by Fred Halliday. A detailed analysis of several important policies
implemented during the early years of the Republic is The
Reign of the Ayatollahs by Shaul Bakhash. A fascinating fictionalized
account of how the secularized classes have reacted to the Islamic
Republic is Sorraya in a Coma by Ismail Fassih. (For
further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)
Data as of December 1987