Iran protesters demand access to clean water for fifth day

People in central Iran are calling on authorities to take urgent action to solve the crisis

Iranians gather during a protest to voice their anger after their province's lifeblood river dried up due to drought and diversion, in the central city of Isfahan. Photo: AFP
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Protests across central Iran entered their fifth day on Wednesday, as people demanded that the government take immediate action to tackle severe water shortages.

The demonstrations started on Friday after thousands of farmers and their supporters gathered in the central Iranian city of Isfahan in the drought-stricken region.

"We are dying of hunger Mr Khamenei. Your stomach is full. What should we the underprivileged do? With our flesh and blood we try to make ends meet," said an Isfahani farmer in a video that circulated on social media. The farmer was referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader.

The protests later spilled into Shahr-e Kord, capital of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province, in south-western Iran.

Iranians, most farmers, gathered at the dried Zayandeh Roud river to protest against the water crisis in the city of Isfahan, central Iran, 19 November 2021.  EPA

The province is known to be a water-rich region located in the Zagros mountains. However, in recent years its water resources have declined due to drought and projects that divert water to arid regions.

Iran’s state news agency Tasnim said about half a million people in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari struggle on a daily basis to obtain clean water. About 200 villages rely on tankers for their household needs, but water for farming, the province’s main source of employment, remains scarce.

For years, farmers in Isfahan province have protested against the diversion of water from the Zayandeh Rud river to supply other areas, leaving their farms dry and threatening their livelihoods.

Farmers attend a protest demanding authorities open a dam to relieve drought-stricken areas of central province of Isfahan. Photo: AP

On Sunday, thousands of Iranians marched peacefully toward the governor’s office in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari and called for help.

"Let Isfahan breathe again, revive Zayandeh Rud," chanted some of the demonstrators in a video posted on social media as crowds gathered in the dry bed of the river where protesting farmers have set up a tent city.

"Our children want water to provide food for your children," read a sign carried by a woman.

Due to decades of government mismanagement and climate change, water shortages have become a chronic problem in Iran.

Iran’s energy minister, Ali Akbar Mehrabian, apologised for the water crisis on Friday.

“I apologise to all of our dear farmers, and I feel ashamed for not being able to provide the water needed for their crops,” Mr Mehrabian said on state-run television.

“I hope we can overcome these shortcomings in the next few months,” he said.

Updated: November 24, 2021, 4:42 PM