Thousands of Iranians protest in Isfahan over water shortages

Ineptitude and rampant government corruption leave many doubting region's epic drought issues will be solved

Thousands of Iranians gathered in Iran's third-largest city on Friday to protest water shortages and government mismanagement in the drought-stricken region.

“Let Isfahan breathe again, revive Zayandeh Rud,” chanted farmers who made up the majority of the protesters.

“Our children want water to provide food for your children,” read one sign.

Some called for “equality and justice” and criticised the regime that has been ruling Iran since 1979.

Mismanagement and rampant corruption have damaged the government's credibility and many doubt its ability to address the region's worst drought in 50 years.

Iran's Energy Minister Ali Akbar Mehrabian apologised for the water shortages while the country's First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber promised a swift resolution.

“I have ordered the ministers of energy and agriculture to take immediate steps to deal with the issue,” Mr Mokhber said on national television.

Farmers in Isfahan province have for years protested against the diversion of water from the Zayandeh Rud to other areas, which in times of drought has destroyed their crops and threatened their livelihoods.

While the protests in the daytime were met with a peaceful response, local reports from Isfahan on Friday night indicated possible internet disruptions and a heavier security presence.

Jason Brodsky, an Iran expert and policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, saw Friday's protests as the continuation of a pattern in the response to drought issues throughout the year.

“We saw this dynamic during the protests in July in Khuzestan [south-western Iran] over water shortages, which witnessed chants against the regime. The problems we are seeing today are, in part, the result of decades of mismanagement and neglect,” Mr Brodsky told The National.

He expected the protests to continue but that the regime will be ready to crack down on them when it deems necessary.

“[Iran's President] Ebrahim Raisi's capacity to change the underlying situation is limited due to structural problems within the Iranian system, which will only produce more frustration and protests,” Mr Brodsky said.

He argued, however, that the regime has become adept at ruthlessly repressing such protests.

“The ascension of Ahmad Vahidi, a long-time Iranian Revolutionary Guard officer and former defence minister, as interior minister was telling, in that [it shows] the regime expects unrest to continue in the months and years ahead.”

Reuters contributed to this report

Updated: November 19th 2021, 9:40 PM