JEDDAH: At least three people have been shot dead, one of them a police officer, in a week of rioting and protests over water shortages in the southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan.
The police officer was killed in the port city of Mahshahr during what county governor Fereydoun Bandari described as “riots.”
In Izeh, local governor Hassan Nobovati said a “young person” was shot dead by “rioters” and 14 police officers were injured. Authorities in the town of Shadegan said a protester had been shot dead by “opportunists and rioters.”
“The people of Khuzestan are staging nightly protests, protests that have been festering for years,” the reformist newspaper Arman-e Melli said
Videos posted online have shown protests in Ahvaz, Hamidiyeh, Izeh, Mahshahr, Shadegan and Susangerd, with security forces violently dispersing protesters.
The videos show hundreds of people marching, chanting anti-regime slogans, while surrounded by riot police. In some, there is the sound of gunfire.
The reformist Etemad newspaper said the hashtag “I am thirsty” in Arabic was trending on social media to draw attention to Khuzestan’s plight. Khuzestan is home to a large Sunni Arab minority, which has frequently complained of marginalisation.
In 2019, the province was a hotspot of anti-government protests that also shook other areas of Iran.
“There were signs of protests and unrest in the province a long time ago, but the officials, like always, waited until the last minute to address them,” Etemad said.
The regime in Tehran sent a delegation of deputy ministers to Khuzestan last week address the water shortage. On Wednesday, state TV showed a long line of water trucks it said were from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a day after army trucks did the same.
Over the years, blistering summer heatwaves and seasonal sandstorms have dried up Khuzestan’s once fertile plains. Scientists say climate change amplifies droughts.
President Hassan Rouhani said this month that Iran was going through an “unprecedented” drought, with average rainfall down 52 percent compared to the previous year.
This month, rolling blackouts began in the Tehran and several other large cities, in part over what authorities describe as a severe drought and surging demand for power. Rainfall has decreased by almost 50 percent in the past year, leaving hydroelectric power generation dams with dwindling water supplies.
Water worries in the past have sent angry demonstrators on to the streets in Iran. “As nearly 5 million Iranians in Khuzestan are lacking access to clean drinking water, Iran is failing to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to water, which is inextricably linked to the right to the highest attainable standard of health,” the group Human Rights Activists in Iran said.