Outraged that precious water from their local river is being diverted, last week a group of farmers in Isfahan, Iran destroyed a pump channelling water to the city of Yazd. They’ve been guarding the pump day and night ever since, refusing to let the authorities fix it. Meanwhile, residents of Yazd are suffering from a severe water shortage, leading to fears of unrest there.
All week, the farmers guarding the pump, which is located just outside Isfahan, have been clashing with police. According to opposition news sites, Wednesday and Thursday's night’s clashes have been the worst yet, with police opening fire on protesters with rubber and lead bullets, wounding many. Despite this, the demonstrators – whom our Observer in Isfahan says number in the several thousand – have stayed put.
The local branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard blames "rebels" for fostering violence, and says the clashes have resulted in injuries and arrests, without specifying any numbers. It also accuses them of attacking a local base belonging to Basij paramilitary volunteers.
Meanwhile, about 300 kilometres away in Yazd, water is being rationed. The local governor has called on Isfahan to promptly suppress the farmers’ protest and repair the pump.
Water spouting from the damaged pump on February 22. The water flow has since been cut off by the authorities, stopping the leakage.
Protesting farmers lined up alongside the road near the pump on February 22.
“Between a recent drought and government mismanagement of water distribution, farmers are really suffering now”
Mehran (not his real name), who lives in Isfahan, is an expert on water distribution issues.
Farmers have been angry for a long time now, ever since the government started diverting water from our river, the Zayanderud, to the city of Yazd, out in the desert. This was about 15 years ago, back when Mohammad Khatami was president – it was a gift from him to Yazd, his hometown. Then, under our current government, more water was diverted to another nearby province, Charmahal-Bakhtiari. This has forced Isfahan to rely more on wells, but between a recent drought and mismanagement of water distribution, farmers are really suffering now. Many have lost their crops. There have been protests for months now; but when the farmers realised they weren’t being heard, they decided to take this drastic step of blowing up the pump.Protesters clashed with police on Wednesday near the pump site. Firing can be heard sporadically throughout the video, though it is unclear where it is coming from.The buses in the distance were burned by protesters.“If they distributed water based on need, rather than politics, there would be enough water to go around”I’ve spoken to farmers, and they say they will keep fighting for their water, whatever the price. They refuse to let the authorities go near the pump unless they agree to stop giving any water to the city of Yazd. I don’t think this is a reasonable demand, but I do think they have to raise their voices in order for the government to start managing water more equitably. I have studied this matter, and I am convinced that if they distributed water based on need, rather than politics, there would be enough water to go around.Meanwhile, in the eastern suburbs of Isfahan, near where the pump is located, the police are on high alert and out in force. Clearly, they are afraid unrest will grow. The water shortages affect farmers the most, but they also affect lots of other industries here – metal work, tourism, etc… It’s terrible for our economy.
“The water that now trickles from my tap tastes really bad”
Mahrokh is an engineering student living in Yazd.
About half of our water comes from the Zayanderud River. So after the pump was destroyed, the authorities linked up extra wells to the regular water network. However, there are rumours that the water from the well is not filtered, and that it is located dangerously close to sewage pipes. Indeed, the water that now trickles from my tap tastes really bad.Our Observer sent us this video showing how little water flowed from her tap on Thursday.Ordinary people who don’t follow the news or politics are blaming this shortage on the Isfahan farmers. Some are even saying we should stop supplying iron ore to Isfahan's factories. At my university, I’ve seen some arguing with other students from Isfahan about who is responsible for the water crisis. But when they really get to debating the issue deeply, everybody ends up agreeing that the real problem is the government’s poor management of water supplies for decades now – not the people of Isfahan.The local media don’t talk much about the crisis, probably because they are afraid that this will cause panic to spread and incite people to rebel in the streets. However, the authorities sent text messages to our phones warning us that the water shortage is a serious problem and that we should reduce our consumption and drink as much bottled water as possible.
Post written with the assistance of journalist Omid Habibinia.