TEHRAN: A demonstrator was shot dead during protests against water shortages in drought-hit Khuzestan in southwestern Iran, state media reported on Saturday, with an official blaming the death on “opportunists and rioters”.
The demonstrator was killed in the Khuzestan province town of Shadegan, the official IRNA news agency said.
The province is Iran’s main oil-producing region and one of its wealthiest, but it has been hit by a persistent drought that has led to tensions since late March.
“Last night (Friday), a number of Shadegan’s people had gathered to protest water shortages due to the drought, during which opportunists and rioters shot dead one of the demonstrators,” the county’s acting governor, Omid Sabripour, told IRNA.
Sabripour said the perpetrators “sought to agitate the people by shooting in the air”, and a “young Shadegan resident” was shot in the process.
In separate comments to the ISNA news agency, Sabripour said the shooting was directed at both the demonstrators and security forces.
He added that the victim was a “30-year-old passer-by” and that those responsible were identified. Some were arrested on Friday night, with a manhunt launched for the others.
Iran has endured repeated droughts over the past decade, particularly in the south.
Earlier this month, President Hassan Rouhani said the drought was “unprecedented”, with average rainfall down 52 percent compared to the previous year.
The Islamic republic has also experienced regular floods in recent years, made worse when torrential rain falls on sun-baked earth.
In other parts of the country, floods over the past three days have killed at least four people, with two others missing, Iranian Red Crescent Society spokesman Mohammad-Hassan Qosian told IRNA on Saturday. Another person was killed by lightning.
Khuzestan’s governor on Friday dismissed videos of protests as false. “Some seek to agitate the people and publish fake videos,” Qasem Soleimani-Dashtaki told IRNA.
Videos on social media apparently showed protests in several Khuzestan towns, including Susangerd, Mahshahr and Hamidiyeh as well as Shadegan.
Farsi-language media based abroad said security forces had cracked down on protesters demonstrating against severe water shortages on Thursday, but domestic media played down the reports.
Khuzestan MP Abdollah Izadpanah warned on Friday that “Khuzestan’s insecurity means a lack of security for the whole country.” He blamed the water shortages on “mistakes and unjustified decisions” such as the extraction of water from Khuzestan’s rivers to other provinces, ISNA reported.
On Friday, the government sent a delegation to Khuzestan to address the problem.
This month, rolling blackouts began in the capital Tehran and several other large cities, which officials blamed on the impact of the drought on hydroelectric power generation, as well as surging demand.
Power cuts in the peak summer months are not uncommon in Iran, but the ongoing drought has intensified the situation.
Khuzestan is home to a large Sunni Arab minority, which has frequently complained of marginalisation in mainly Shia Iran.
In 2019, the province was a hotspot of anti-government protests that had shaken other areas of the Islamic republic.
Over the years, blistering summer heatwaves and seasonal sandstorms blowing in from Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Iraq have dried up Khuzestan’s once fertile plains.
Scientists say climate change amplifies droughts, and their intensity and frequency in turn threaten food security.
Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2021