May 26, 2020
A clash between protesters demanding drinking water and security forces in southwestern Iran has turned into the hottest issue on Iranian social media.
On Saturday May 23, security forces fired tear gas and “plastic bullets” into a crowd of residents in Gheizaniyeh in Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province who were protesting lack of drinking water.
According to the web monitoring website Best Farsi, # Gheizaniyeh was the top hashtag in Persian Twitter Monday morning May 25.
Many have reacted to the news of clashes attributing the shortage of fresh water in the area to the government’s incompetence. Khuzestan is rich with rivers and water reservoirs and was inundated by floods last year.
The clash between police and protesters started after demonstrators blocked the road between Ahvaz and Mahshahr, another city in the province which was the scene of a massacre during the nationwide protests in Iran in November 2019.
Leila, a twitter user, wrote that the situation of water supply in Khuzestan never returned to normal after the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
Leila was responding to a tweet by Dariush Zand who posted a picture of the brown liquid that came out of the water tap in his house. Zand wrote that “Except Andimishk which has a decent water supply from the nearby Dez Dam, no other place in Khuzestan Province has access to proper drinking water.”
What has enraged Khuzestanis is the fact that their province has most of Iran’s oil and provides most of the hard currency the Islamic Republic needs to pay for tens of billions of imports and pursue its costly foreign policy.
In a series of tweets, Shahab Nazari, a local architect, wrote that Gheizaniyeh is the largest neighborhood of Ahvaz and has a population of 25,000. He wrote: “Gheizaniyeh is one of the most underprivileged parts of this oil-rich zone which used to produce over 2 million barrels of oil according to Tasnim news agency. But the only outcome of oil production in the region for the people of Gheizaniyeh is nothing but polluted air, lack of water and the destruction of its farmlands.”
According to Nazari, the Iranian oil company sends a few tankers of drinking water to this area on a daily basis, adding that the situation of health and education in this area is deplorable.
Nazari wrote that Gholamreza Shariati, the governor general of Khuzestan promised three years ago to solve the problem of water shortage in Gheizaniyeh within three months but nothing has changed since then.
Comments published in reaction to these tweets noted that the situation is equally bad in other parts of Khuzestan including Gachsaran, Naft Sefid, Bibi Hakimeh and Fakkeh.
Nezameddin Mousavi, a hardliner journalist close to the IRGC and a member of the next parliament in Iran, exclaimed in a tweet why a problem that should have been solved in three months based on a promise by a top local official has taken so long? He speculated that the reason could be incompetence, lack of planning or simply laziness.
On Monday, former IRGC Commander Mohsen Rezaee criticized the situation in a tweet, observing that “Gheizaniyeh produces 500,000 barrels of oil per day but it does not have fresh water like other areas such as Assalouyeh, and Masjid-i Soleiman.” Rezai blamed “the American style management of the country’s economy” for the situation. It is not clear what he exactly meant by that.
Subsequently, many twitter users lashed out at Rezaee for having done nothing for the region where he comes from while he and his brother, a former member of parliament from the same region, have been in positions of power for 40 years.
Sadeq Hosseini, a journalist from Tehran, responded to Rezaee by writing: “What have you done for your own province?” and reminded him that he has built a mosque in an affluent part of the capital Tehran.
The problem of water shortage in Khuzestan has been creating public health and social problems for many years while, as radio Farda journalist Iliya Jazayeri has observed, Khuzestan supplies water to at least one third of Iran.
The journalist was referring to the existence of many rivers and dams in the province including the Dez dam built by Americans in the 1960s.