Iran, water crisis and repression
There has been a prolonged drought in Iran since the early twentieth century, resulting in the destruction of lakes and wetlands as well as excessive water stress throughout the country. As an example of “human intervention” in water resources, the Iranian drought can be described as a water stress caused by aggressive pressure on water resources and by improper, short-term, and unstable groundwater management.
In this case, it is important to know what factors contributed to the country’s water crisis? The two concepts of “water scarcity” and “water crisis” must be distinguished here. A lack of water is a natural and climatic phenomenon, but a water crisis is the result of human action and is directly related to the question of governance and policy in terms of the management of a country’s water resources.
The drought situation in Iran is a result of excessive extraction of groundwater from renewable sources due to human intervention. From 460,000 wells in 2002 to 794,000 in 2015, the number of registered wells has increased. Consequently, Iran’s “water crisis” is more of a result of decades of inefficient policies in water resource management rather than climate change.
Improper dam construction, depletion of groundwater resources in relation to its supply, digging illegal wells, misplacement of industrial factories (generally placed in the central regions of Iran and away from water centers that have caused the transfer of water from dams), inefficient agricultural techniques, and inappropriate use of water in agriculture (such as ideological changes in the use of grape cultivation as the main material for wine production to apple cultivation or insistence on self-sufficiency in wheat cultivation which need to much water) and population growth can be considered as the main causes of water crisis in Iran.
Meanwhile, Washington’s sanctions and restrictions on Iran have forced Tehran to look for alternative sources of crude oil, including water-intensive industries such as petrochemicals, mining, and steel making. In other words, diversification of the economy in Iran, which was already confronted with the challenge of water, was done in a way that increased the consumption of water.
The Iranian media has for years, citing researchers and experts, repeatedly discussed the water crisis and the need to review the laws and management structure of the industry and warned that a lot of water was wasted by this sector. Thus, the water crisis in Iran is primarily a result of “mismanagement” in the water sector. In academic research and the Energy Committee of the Iranian Parliament, climate change is acknowledged to be an influential factor in this process rather than a direct cause of the water crisis.
The province of Khuzestan is currently facing the consequences of decades of these policies. Special mention should be made of the existing and older dam construction, water transfer and drainage works of the Hawizeh swamps with the aim of extracting oil, etc., which contributed significantly to the drought in the area and the consequent sandstorms. The destruction of Khuzestan and its people in the name of “development” has been raised and denounced by experts and activists for years, but the regime has chosen to keep its ears closed.
But,it is not the first time that Khuzestan face water shortage crises and the cutting off of drinking water and agriculture. As an example, last year in Gheyzaniyeh, one of the districts of Ahvaz, there were widespread protests and it was announced that this area with 83 villages and a population of 250,000 people, after 5 decades, still faces the problem of drinking water.
Khuzestan province residents staged protest rallies in mid-July after they were cut off from drinking water, mostly due to poor substructure and old and unrepaired infrastructure. They also complained of a lack of water for farms and livestock.
Temperatures soared to 50 degrees Celsius and the lack of water and electricity caused many problems for people. Iran’s energy minister had announced widespread cuts earlier and urged the people to endure. The protests started from the villages and reached the cities. In the cities of Ahvaz and Khorramshahr, however, the situation changed completely with the very violent treatment of the police.
As protests began, the head of the Energy Commission of the Iranian Parliament claimed that they had authorized the operation of the Karkheh and Dez dams that dried up the two main streams in Khuzestan. The Fars News Agency (owned by the IRGC) reported just three days later that even with limited exploitation, the Karkheh Dam would store water for less than 60 days. Basically, the water released by this dam is going to be used to water various agricultural and industrial uses in central and arid regions of Iran, so it will have no effect on the drinking water of people and livestock.
Residents of Khuzestan have shared on social media that there have never been truly drinkable tap waters in the province, and they had buy water or draw it from the rivers, many of which are now dry.
With rising unemployment and the loss of agriculture and livestock, the protests went beyond protesting the mishandling of the water crisis. The large number of protesters was prompted by widespread police violence, which elicited widespread reactions from users and civic activists on social media. Iranian Pen Association, Teachers’ Association, independent trade unions, cinema documentaries association and dozens of university professors have spoken out against the widespread crackdown on protesters.
Meanwhile, government media outlets tried to calm the atmosphere by publishing news and reports. Reporters from the state-run media went to the area with widespread restrictions, and claimed that water was flowing in the rivers and no problems existed. Even with their videos and photos showing there is little water in this great river where shipping once thrived.
Despite dozens of videos and extensive evidence that police fired directly at protesters, officials only confirmed the deaths of two young protesters and blamed them on the protesters themselves. Reports indicate that “at least eight people” died in the protests, several of them under 20 years of age.
One of the most viewed video on social media shows one of the protesters fleeing from the police shouting that he is unemployed, that he is not the enemy, and that he wants his right. However, the police shoot at him.
Over a week has passed since the protests and the authorities haven’t responded clearly. The Islamic leader of Iran, Khamenei, claims that protest is the right of the people, but the enemy must not be allowed to abuse it. In a tweet, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council said hundreds of people had been detained, but he did not explain why protesters in the water crisis were being detained. the regime, despite the will of the people and grassroots support, blames the protests on foreign enemies, hostile media, and separatist groups.
Khuzestan still faces problems such as reconstruction, poverty, unemployment, and employment more than 30 years after the Iran-Iraq war. Before the 1979 revolution and war, this province was one of the most protested provinces in Iran. Recent protests by Haft Tappeh sugarcane workers and recent strikes by oil, gas, and petrochemical workers illustrate these problems. Oil workers’ recent strike has lasted more than a month, with the strike’s organizing committee voicing support for the protests. In doing so, it demonstrates both the interconnectedness of issues faced by different social groups in Iran but also the emerging link of the struggles that are necessary to overturn them.