Protesters gather on the dried-up riverbed of the Zayandeh Roud river in the city of Isfahan 410 kilometres south of Tehran, November 19, 2021. (AP)

By Track Persia

November 30, 2021

Iran has witnessed several protests against the regime’s management of the water crisis in the country. The ongoing protests are the latest. They started in the Iranian province of Esfahan where there have almost been daily protests for more than a week. Esfahan has been particularly hard-hit by drought.

The Iranian regime has reportedly cut mobile internet in many areas in Esfahan. Nonetheless, a few footages circulated in social media showed the Iranian security was firing bullets at protesters and using batons and tear gas to disperse them. For their part, some protesters were seen setting fire to objects in the city, including pictures of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei during the clashes on Friday. Two bulldozers used to destroy a pipe taking water from Esfahan province to Yazd, according to state-linked media.

Iran’s Human Rights said in a report that more than 120 people have been arrested so far. The detainees have been transferred to Esfahan Central Prison after the farmers’ peaceful protests against the mismanagement of the water crisis were brutally suppressed. three of those detained were taken directly to the “infirmary and morgue” ward of the prison by ambulance, and are believed to have been died from serious injuries.

The demands of the protesters have been mainly over the complete dryness of the iconic Zayandeh river and these demands are being ignored. The protesters have been brutally dealt with by the Iranian security forces for blaming the water crisis on the successive Iranian governments which they accuse of diverting water to ill-conceived worthless projects.

Having said that the residents of Esfahan’s neighbouring towns in the mountainous regions have raised concerns about the possibility that the Iranian regime will divert more water to respond to the demands of the protesters in Esfahan, consequently, their irrigation needs could be impacted. Drought has been a serious problem in Iran in the past few years. The Iranians who are most affected by this problem accuse the Iranian authorities of diverting water from their areas to supply other areas such as the province of Yazd, which is also suffering from a severe water shortage supplies.

On Saturday, media linked to the Iranian regime such as the ultra-conservative daily Kayhan pointed the finger of blame for the violence at “mercenary thugs”, whereas the pro-reform Etemad said the protests in Esfahan showed a “lack of trust in the government”. In the meantime, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the issue is the country’s top problem, without referring to the protests.

For their part, Iranian human rights activists say that among the detainees are the elderly, women, children and young. These detainees are living under terrible conditions and facing severe torture by Iranian security.  Every few hours, the police and intelligence brought a van full of protesters and handed them over to the detention centre according to sources who spoke to the Iranian human rights activists.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) reportedly has a section with a morgue in the Esfahan Central Prison. Members of IRGC reportedly executed several protesters who they had caught while protesting in some areas in Esfahan. The Esfahan Central Prison whose supervision is shared between IRGC and Iranian intelligence has been reportedly used for detaining Iranian political prisoners. Many detainees have been transferred to this prison after the November 2019 nationwide protests in Iran. Many of these detainees have still been detained in this prison despite the long period.

More protests have also erupted in Iran’s Shahre Kord city this month. In these protests, the demands also focused on the water rights for their city. Similar protests had spread earlier with the protesters having demanded water rights for Chahar and Bakhtiari province, a mountainous region along the Zagros mountains. These demands were reiterated by the protesters of the widespread protests that erupted in the neighbouring city of Esfahan on November 9. The Iranian regime blames Iran’s worst drought in the last 50 years on the water shortages. Critics, critics, point the blame finger on the mismanagement of water by the successive Iranian governments.

In July, street protests broke out over water shortages in the oil-producing southwest. The United Nations human rights chief criticised the fatal shooting of protesters by Iranian security. At least four people were reportedly killed in connection with these protests in Iran’s oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan. The violence came amid the failure of the Iranian authorities to address this ongoing water crisis.

Khuzestan is home to Iran’s ethnic Arab minority whose members have protested a few times over the past few years demanding water for irrigation and even drinking in one of the strategic and agriculturally rich regions in Iran. In these protests, many of Khuzestan’s ethnic Arabs shouted:  “the people want the fall of the regime,” the iconic slogan used during the mass protests in the Arab world that erupted in 2011.

The reports of the death toll said that at least four protesters were killed in the Khuzestan protests. Activists accuse the Iranian security forces of being responsible for these killings. While the Iranian security authorities attributed the fatalities to “terrorist groups” that infiltrated the protests and the separatists and anti-revolutionary groups that took advantage of the protest rallies. For his part,  former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed the water deficit on the drought and the intensifying heat.

It seems that the continued drought crisis in Iran has been caused by some factors. One of the major factors is the lack of water in some Iranian areas such as Khuzestan which is despite being blessed with many geographical and water resources given it enjoys access to three key Iranian rivers and has much of the country’s water reserves. However, the most important factor is the Iranian governments’ failure to address the increased demands of the population in specific Iranian areas, such as the case in Khuzestan which is Iran’s most vital oil industry but continues to suffer from water shortage in addition to unemployment and poverty.

The Iranian regime’s water policy has created a breeding ground for separatist ideologies among Iranian minorities such as the Arabs in Khuzestan. Given historically the Iranian regime has shown no tolerance for the protests over water shortage, there will likely be more escalation of violence in Iran. The water crisis might intensify and lead to broader protests that could have serious impacts on the survival of the Iranian regime.

About Track Persia

Track Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.