Protests Erupt In Iran's Oil-Rich Province Over Water Crisis
Protests to lack of water broke out in several cities in Iran’s oil-producing Khuzestan province Thursday night and security forces fired in the air, used tear gas and in one part of the provincial capital Ahvaz reportedly fired toward protesters.
From videos available on social media, children, teenagers, and adults from working and poor classes marched down in large numbers through the streets shouting, “We want water”, “Water is my right” and “My life for Karun”. Karun is a major river in south-western Iran and a symbol of life for the local people. The river has almost gone dry this year.
Iran is in the midst of a long drought that has become worse this year due to 50 percent less precipitation in the winter and spring. But people also blame the government for years of mismanagement and building too many unnecessary dams. Many say the dams have not helped and have harmed the environment.
The first protests started in the evening in Hamidiyeh, a town near Ahvaz and spread to other cities and towns. Arab speaking Iranians comprise a large part of the population in Khuzestan, although it is not clear if they are the majority. Protesters were heard speaking Arabic and one slogan was “My life for Ahvaz”, which shows the ethnic element in the protests.
An important factor that has long angered local people is that in the 43 years of Islamic Republic rule their province, which produces a significant part of Iran’s wealth has been neglected. The region was devastated by the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and then partially rebuilt.
Police that had lined up to block the main streets where protesters were marching had to retreat and open the way as numbers swelled.
There were reports last week that in many Khuzestan villages and elsewhere in Iran the rural population is forced to buy water from tankers just for their personal needs. Iranian officials have said that 8,000 villages in the country have severe or serious water shortage and rely on tanker deliveries.
Local sources reported that in Khoramshahr, a key port on the Persian Gulf, security forces resorted to firing toward demonstrators and using tear gas. The same was repeated in in one part of Ahvaz. There have been no reports of serious injuries or deaths. Security forces apparently also avoided arrests, a sign that they do not want to trigger more protests.
In Mahshahr, a city where dozens of people were killed in the November 2019 protests, demonstrators closed a key transport route to the Persian Gulf. A local official said that protests began with a call to people on social media to come out into the streets.