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Protests over Water Shortages in Iran’s Khouzestan Province Intensify

The following article is from MECRA's correspondent who covers Iran.

A new round of protests against the background of the water crisis has begun and is ongoing in Iran since July 15th. The protests are centered on Iran’s oil producing Khouzestan province in the south west of the country, bordering Iraq and the Persian Gulf. With a population of 4,7 Million(2016), it is the fifth most populous province in Iran. Khouzestan is host to the largest rivers in Iran: Karoun, Karkhe, Jarahi, Dez and Maroun.

The protests started because of the water shortage issue. But after the severe suppression of the protesters, the demands and slogans became political and directed against the Islamic Republic. Nine people were killed and many more injured when security forces opened fire and tear gas at protesters.

The Ahwaz Human Rights Organization reported the detention of at least 201 people all over Khouzestan. Local sources however, told MECRA that the number of people arrested is much higher than the announced figure. Last week, security forces were deployed in the Koi Alavi neighborhood, one of the main centers of protests in Ahwaz, and arrested a large number of residents on suspicion of participating in protest rallies.

Hassan Rouhani, said that “citizens have the right to protest after days of demonstrations against water shortages in Khouzestan province in which three people have been killed.”

“It is possible that a malicious person could take advantage of the situation, come in the middle of it all and use a gun, and shoot and kill one of our dear citizens.” Rouhani said.

During the crackdown on the November 2019 protests, Rouhani also said that the perpetrators of the killings of the protesters were unknown and that the victims of the protests had been killed by gunfire that did not belong to the police, IRGC or Basij.

According to MECRA sources, among the large number of children and teenagers detained during the protests in different cities of Khouzestan, some families have been informed in a few cases that those arrested can be released if the families pay bail. Most of the families lack the financial resources for this.

Many families, meanwhile, still have not been provided with any information about the place of detention or the charges against the detainees.

“The people showed their displeasure. but we cannot really blame the people and their issues must be taken care of.” Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on July 23th.

According to Tasnim News Agency, Ayatollah Khamenei after receiving the second shot of Iranian corona vaccine said “In the last 7-8 days, one of our concerns was the issue of Khouzestan and the issue of water and people's problems.”

In July 26th in solidarity with Khouzestan, demonstrations were held in Tehran. "Shame on Khamenei, leave this country", "No Gaza, No Lebanon, I give my life for Iran", “Death to the dictator”, “Death to Khamenei”, “Arab-Persian-Azerbaijan, unity, unity!” were among the slogans chanted by the protestors.

In support of the protests, citizens in Esfahan, Tabriz, Ilam, Alborz, Kordestan and Boushehr came to the streets.

Thousands of villages in the south of the country have neither water in their springs nor in their pipes. The scarcity of water resources and the drying up of lakes and rivers have led to protests and criticism in various cities, even hundreds of kilometers from Khouzestan. Management of the drinking water supply and water consumption in the agricultural sector should be seriously reviewed and operational and executive solutions should be established for it, Ismail Kahrom, Iranian ecologist and environmental activist and advisor to the head of the Environmental Protection Organization said.

The current reason for water shortages in Khuzestan province is not natural factors, but mismanagement of resources in recent years, which have caused increasingly less water to reach people's homes and agricultural pastures from dams on the province's five rivers from summer to summer.

According to experts, Iran built dams in places that were not needed or in places that caused salinization and destruction of water resources.

Citizens of Khouzestan believe that decisions such as the implementation of water transfer projects for industries to desert provinces have reduced the water of the Karoun river and prevent water from flowing downstream and reaching the Hur Al-Azim wetland – this area is a large lagoon located in Khouzestan.

Mojtaba Yousefi, representative of Ahvaz in the parliament said “When water transfer permits are issued from the branches of the province's water resources and 25 steel companies are opened in the central plateau and desert areas of the country, it is not so strange to reach the current situation. Unfortunately, instead of water facilities being built next to coastal cities, they have been built in desert cities that need water transfer.” “Where in the world do 25 steel companies build in the desert and then transport water thousands of kilometers to settle there? “

Since 2008, the demolition process of Hur Al-Azim wetland has intensified, In 2008, the ministers of the Economic Commission, in front of the Environmental Protection Organization, handed over more than 7,000 hectares of wetland lands to the Ministry of Oil for 30 years to explore and exploit. Since then, new information regarding the destruction of Hur Al-Azim is heard every day. In 2015, the deputy director of the Khuzestan General Directorate of Environmental Protection told IRNA: "Oil company contractors have destroyed 70% of the wetland. In order not to damage the oil facilities, tanks 3 4 and 5 of the wetland were kept dry for oil field activities. Seyyed Adel Mola had said the same year: "Oil companies have cut the wetland into pieces "They have built roads everywhere in the wetland without observing rules and principles.

Some environmental experts and locals in Khouzestan believe that the Ministry of Oil, following contracts with Chinese contractors, is seeking to dry the Hur al-Azim wetland so that it can extract oil more easily and at a lower cost.

Ahmad Reza Lahijanzadeh, Deputy Minister of Marine Environment of the Environmental Protection Agency of Iran, said “Hur al-Azim wetland was dried up in favor of the Chinese Oil Company with the permission of the Supreme Security Council.”

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