Iran’s water protests reveal looming environmental crisis
Poor management of natural resources and poor policy formulation and implementation have led to water shortages – and clashes – today.
Hopes were raised over the weekend when high-level officials finally traveled to Khuzestan province in southwest Iran to investigate the devastating water shortages that led to widespread demonstrations throughout the province and demonstrations of sympathy in several other provinces.
The visits took place ten days after the protests began on July 15 and only after the green light from Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who, in a rare spectacle of support for people, said he understood protesters’ anger over the drought, but refrained from condemning the brutal crackdown.
Ample video evidence verified by human rights organizations reveals that security forces shot dead “at least eight protesters.” Amnesty International said they “used deadly automatic weapons, shotguns with inherently blind ammunition and tear gas to disperse the protesters.” He called the action “illegal” and “excessive” and condemned the intelligence forces for “sweeping away dozens of protesters and activists, including many members of the Ahwazi Arab minority, during the mass arrests ”.
“I’m thirsty, water is my right”, was the main slogan of the demonstrations heard in at least 20 major towns and villages in Khuzestan and through demonstrations of support in the provinces of Isfahan, Azerbaijan, Lorestan and Kurdistan. Groups of lawyers, artists, musicians and writers wrote open letters of support to oppose the violation of residents’ basic rights. Farsi hashtags such as #KhuzestanIsThirsty and #KhuzestanHasNoWater have been widely used.
UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet added her voice story Iran will “focus on taking urgent measures” to address the chronic water shortage instead of using “excessive force and widespread arrests to crush protests.”
Khuzestan MP Mojtaba Yusofi said that in most parts of northern and southern Khuzestan there was no drinking water amid a scorching temperature of over 51 degrees Celsius.
While one of the factors behind the water shortages is a sharp drop in rainfall of over 40 percent in recent months – poor management of water resources is owned by most experts be the main cause of the acute crisis.
Water resources in Khuzestan’s agricultural lands have, over the decades, been diverted for industrial purposes in other provinces. Several dams have been created to store water for seasonal purposes.
Farmers are now deprived of water for their land, livestock and crops, as well as drinking water. Many have lost valuable livestock due to water scarcity. They are angry and unemployed and nothing has been done to reverse the trend.
Iranian authorities initially blamed the “rioters” for the unrest and attempted to portray the protests as politically motivated.
According to Amnesty International, the video evidence indicates that the protests were mostly peaceful, although in some places some protesters erected roadblocks with burning tires, engaged in stone throwing and arson and damaged state vehicles as the crackdown by security forces intensified. He specifies that in some videos, gunshots are heard as demonstrators flee and therefore could not represent any danger for the security forces.
But official media such as Tasnim, close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) have fabricated videos for blame “Anti-revolutionary” for killing demonstrators.
“We cannot blame the protesters,” Khamenei said, adding that the scarcity of water in scorching weather was not a minor issue. He called for an investigation.
Ayatollah is well aware of the signs of danger in this turbulent province. Three of recent Terrorist attacks against the IRGC took place in the same province. The sender of IRGC commander-in-chief Hossein Salami in the region after Khamenei’s speech was a clear indicator of concerns of unrest.
There is also a long-standing resentment towards what locals claim to be a divisive-rule policy separating the ethnic Arabs of Khuzestan from the rest. The province is home to a large Arab minority and its inhabitants regularly complain of being marginalized.
When Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri visited on Friday, Sheikh Mousa Krushaty, an Arab activist, told him that water was not the only problem; that “unemployment and poor infrastructure devastated life.” Jahangiri, an economist, admitted that regional development policies had failed to deliver the expected results over the past 40 years.
In a province rich in water and soil of exceptional quality, agriculture has been an important source of livelihood for its five million inhabitants. Khuzestan is also Iran’s largest source of oil. But US sanctions have also brought down oil revenues and cut jobs.
“Water is an important catalyst for social instability”, tweeted Kaveh Madani, an environmental specialist, who was previously deputy head of Iran’s environment ministry, but was forced to resign and flee in 2018 when IRGCs began questioning him amid his revelations about the crisis environment of Iran.
Khuzestan is the story of a shattered jewel in the crown of a nation, a province enraged by the neglect and lack of forethought of a theocratic establishment more focused on gun power and excessive force, a regime which has repeatedly turned its autodidact crisis into a tragic human catastrophe.
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Source: TRT World