1 killed at Iran water shortage protests in restive drought-hit province

Khuzestan governor says ‘opportunists and rioters’ shot protester; province is main oil-producing region; has large Sunni Arab minority which complains of marginalization

Screen grab taken from video apparently showing protests against water shortages in Khuzestan, July 16, 2021 (Twitter)
Screen grab taken from video apparently showing protests against water shortages in Khuzestan, July 16, 2021 (Twitter)

TEHRAN — A demonstrator was shot dead during protests against water shortages in drought-hit southwestern Iran, state media reported 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.

“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 fire 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 and some arrested last night, with a manhunt under way for the others.

A persistent drought in Khuzestan province has led to tensions over water since late March, IRNA reported.

Iran has endured repeated droughts over the past decade, particularly in the south.

Earlier this month, President Hassan Rouhani said this year’s drought was “unprecedented” with average rainfall down 52 percent compared to the previous year.

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a meeting at the presidency compound in Tehran, Iran, July 6, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Earlier this week, the government sent a delegation to Khuzestan to tackle the water shortage.

The province is Iran’s main oil-producing region and one of its wealthiest.

It is also one of the few areas of mainly Shiite Iran to have a large Sunni Arab minority, which has frequently complained of marginalization.

In 2019, the province was a hotspot of anti-government protests that had shaken other areas of the Islamic republic.

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.

Over the years, blistering summer heatwaves and seasonal sandstorms blowing in from Saudi Arabia and neighboring 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.

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