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Protests in southeastern Iran as water crisis deepens

Iran's flag (Dreamstime/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Iranians living in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan staged a protest on July 31, criticizing the government’s failure to deal with an escalating water crisis, sandstorms, and the unfulfilled water rights of the Helmand River as a drought in the region reaches a “super-critical” stage.

The protest, which was described as a “legal gathering” by official Iranian news agencies, saw hundreds of residents of the city of Zabol demand President Ebrahim Raisi come to the region and also call for the establishment of a high council to address the crisis.

Diminishing water supplies are seen as an existential threat to Iran, where poor water management, drought, and corruption-ridden infrastructure projects have contributed to water scarcity.

Protesters held signs with messages such as “Sistan has no water, Sistan has no air, Sistan has no livelihood,” and “Sistan is thirsty for water, Sistan is thirsty for attention.” They also emphasized the need for a crisis council and warned that the situation could escalate into a “national security challenge.”

The water crisis and a lack of industrial development have inflicted heavy blows on the people of the region, with some residents demanding compensation for agricultural damage from the drought conditions, tax forgiveness, and loan relief for livestock breeders in what one protester said was the start of a “super-critical” stage for the province.

This protest is the fifth in recent months over the water crisis in Sistan-Baluchistan. A previous gathering in April focused on the inaction of the Foreign Ministry and other government agencies in pursuing the water rights of the Helmand River from the Taliban rulers of neighboring Afghanistan.

Sistan-Baluchistan Province, particularly its northern cities, has been severely affected by a water crisis that has been exacerbated by dust storms for several months due to the formation of new dust centers and seasonal winds. The province has also faced drinking-water and power cuts in the past month.

During a meeting on “Water, development, and climate migration” held in June, Iranian researchers said that due to the water crisis, some 10,000 households had migrated from Zabol and its surrounding areas to other parts of Iran over the past year.

The situation mirrors that in many cities across the country, where water shortages — and protests over the crisis — are becoming more commonplace.

Experts say climate change has amplified the droughts and floods plaguing Iran and that their intensity and frequency threaten food security.

The Iranian Meteorological Organization has estimated that 97 percent of the country is experiencing drought to some degree.