Reza Ardakanian was born in 1958 in Yazd, Iran. He holds a BSc in civil engineering from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Iran; an MSc in water resources engineering; and a PhD in water resources management from McMaster University in Canada.
He has been a faculty member of Sharif University of Technology in Tehran since 1998 where 15 PhD and MSc students have graduated under his supervision; he served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the University from 1999-2006. He has authored, co-authored, and edited around 80 publications, including books, journal papers, research reports, lecture notes, and articles for the media.
At national level, he has served as the deputy minister for Urban Development (1987-89) in the Ministry of Interior, deputy minister for planning (1989-91), first deputy minister (1998-2001), and deputy minister for water affairs (2001-2005) in the Ministry of Energy of Iran. During the latter period, he also served as general manager of the National Water Resources Management Company, in charge of constructing/operating of large dams, irrigation networks, and hydropower plants.
At international level, he sat on the bureau of UNESCO-IHP in Paris (2000-02), the governing board of UNESCO-IHE in Delft (2003-07), managing board of the International Hydropower Association in London (2004-06), and the advisory board of UNU-EHS (2003-07). He was founding director of RCUWM, a UNESCO regional centre on urban water management based in Tehran (2002-07).
Since 2007, he has been founding director of the UN-Water Decade Programme on Capacity Development (UNW-DPC), hosted by the United Nations University. He has also served UNU as vice rector in Europe, ad interim, during August 2009 until November 2010.
In October 2012, Reza Ardakanian was appointed by the Rector of the United Nations University as the founding director of the new UNU Institute for Integrated Management of Material Fluxes and of Resources (UNU-FLORES) in Dresden, Germany.