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Iran: Water And Freedom Uprising – OpEd

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Iran is located at the same historical and geographical place for thousands of years. Its ingenious people have lived in this majority arid and semiarid land for generations. they have established an amazing civilization with a sustainable management of their natural ecosystems exemplary for the world and massively contributed to humanities, arts, architecture, culture and science.

Now, the country is faced with massive water shortage due to the missmanagement, corruption, and water plundering of the ruling Clerical Regime. The Regime officials and some of its foreign and domestic experts trying hard to portray this severity to drought, climate change and global warming instead of notorious Iran’s water mafia, which protesting farmers are calling for its abolishment.

Iran’s water resources have been depleted due to massive over extraction of underground water resources and IRGC affiliated companies building of dams, regardless of their usefulness for the nation, without any environmental considerations, and farming of water intensive crops, which are again under the control of affluent IRGC members, elite clerics or foundations under the supervision of Iran’s Supreme Leader. Farmers hit by water shortages are fleeing their villages to live in shacks and sub-standard settlements on the outskirts of cities. 

Iran is a victim of anthropogenic climate change, but also of water resources mismanagement, especially after the anti-monarchial uprising in 1979. Due to this disastrous mix of climate impacts and problematic water resources management decisions, water related challenges do not only threaten lives and livelihoods, but have also led to protests, violence and an increasing risk of destabilization. The recent farmers protests in the Iranian province of Khuzestan in July 2021, recently in Isfahan, and Shahrekord, capitals of Isfahan and Chaharmahal Bakhtiari provinces and other places are only the latest evidence of water related challenges leading to risks of instability, insecurity and conflict in Iran and beyond. Here, one has to mention that such conflict is not certainly between people of involved provinces, but between Iranians as a whole and the entirety of the Iran’s Clerical Regime.

However, one must know that all such environmental crisis are Clerical Regime made crisis, which even regime own experts are admitting total contribution of Clerical government in creating such crisis, deforestation, overgrazing of rangelands, sinkholes, land subsidence, plundering of water resources, and increased desertification. 

Since aquifers have been depleted, outnumber of natural springs, Qantas, and other traditional water sources have dried up. Many villagers just do not have water to drink. They collect their drinking  water from small puddles on the ground, which is unhealthy for them and their stock. In big cities, people are consuming bottled water for a number of years because the water that comes from the pipes is muddy, colored and smelly, which again the producers of these water bottles are profiteers, affiliated with the ruling Clerics.

Policy makers in Iran seem to be well aware of the challenges. In late April 2021, Deputy Energy Minister for Water and Wastewater Affairs Ghasem Taqizadeh Khamesi declared that water storage in the country’s dams had declined 20% over the past year. In addition, he announced that due to a 40% decline in rainfall relative to the long-term average, “we won’t be able to supply water for the three cultivation periods of spring, autumn and summer.” 

Drought conditions have continued into summer, with the Director of Iran’s National Drought Warning and Monitoring Center, Sadeq Ziaeian, declaring that the country was facing one of its most deficit rainfall season in 50 years, with rainfall dropping by nearly 50% in some parts of the country and even 80% in the Southeastern provinces of Sistan and Baluchistan. But Iran’s policy makers seem to be unable to mount an effective response to these challenges. Its reason is policy of Iran being concentrated in the hand of one man “Supreme Leader”, which he is not accountable to anyone.

There have been protests across Iran; including in Tehran, Isfahan, Tabriz, Bojnourd, Saghez, and other big cities to express solidarity with the people of Khuzestan, and express their anger and dissatisfaction at the ruling class, which has responded with arrests and attempts at shutting down social media. At the same time, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has expressed his sympathy with the demands of the protesters and promised that water would be made a top priority, while him and his officials have thus far failed to improve water resources management or address climate change issues. It appears that Iran’s leadership is aware of the crisis and its impacts on livelihoods as well as on broader national stability and security, but due to its rottenness nature incapable of offering any solution.

One of the reasons for this deplorable situation is the profiteering of companies and organizations affiliated with the Supreme Leader, IRGC, and government altogether. Such organizations have built dams, the water supply industry without accurate calculation and caused rivers to dry up and underground water to be depleted.

More than four decades of the Clerics dominated government’s mismanagement or best management in the interest of privileged ones, corruption, and lastly climate change have led to a severe water crisis all over Iran. According to the reported data, rainfall has decreased 53% this year compared to the previous year, and 41% compared to long term average. The World Meteorological Organization expects rainfall to decrease 75% by 2025 as a result of climate crisis, resulting from reckless exploitation, unsustainable developments, and destruction of the natural ecosystems.

Despite such reports and environmentalists warnings, the Clerical Regime rather than mitigating the crisis, has continued to dam rivers, over extract groundwater, drain lakes, and destroy wetlands, disregarding the long term impact of such measures. The exploitation of groundwater has drained underground aquifers at an unbelievable rate that has increased its deficit from 200 million/m3 to 200 billion/m3 across Iran between 1981-2020, leading to over extraction of water resources and widespread desertification.

Establishment of dams, water hungry industries in most unsuitable locations, mainly Iran’s arid region, diversion of fresh water resources for such regions, and digging many unlicensed deep wells after 1979 revolution is the main reason for the drying up of numerous rivers. These industries and wells are often under the control of companies affiliated with IRGC or the large mega conglomerate religious foundation under Supreme Leader supervision. 

Attempts to calm farmers down by giving empty promises as long as surface waters are in control of IRGC and groundwater exploitation in hands of Ministry of Energy water mafia, again affiliated or controlled by IRGC, are completely hollow ones. Given the rottenness of the ruling Clerics and corruption at the highest levels of Iran’s government such promises are bubbles. The public sector isn’t any better, which is highly related to the circle of power. Agriculture and irrigation projects are riddled with nepotism and profiteering. 

Institutions affiliated with IRGC and the government plunder water, but the people of the region, especially the hardworking farmers of the Central Plateau of Iran, pay the price for water looting.

The corruption of the regime is further demonstrated by the rationing of scarce water during the scorching summers, with state and private companies belonging to the regime and its supporters being apportioned a bigger share. For example, water in the Isfahan provinces is being diverted to nuclear and steel plants affiliated with the IRGC.

During recent years, Iran has faced worsening flash floods, which is the results of deforestation, overgrazing of rangelands, and desertification. Last three years, 28 of 31 provinces experienced flooding. This water could have been collected and used to build up water reserves. But Iran’s Clerical Regime is incapable of proper watershed management or any type of planning to prevent damaging effects of massive flooding.

Now Iranians as a whole, farmers, workers, teachers, nurses, retirees, and others are uprised to gain their Clerics stolen water and freedom. They have patiently waited for more than 43 years and heard all government promises but didn’t see any results other than atrocities, poverty, suppression and terrorism. What makes people to believe, this time is any different? The people think it’s enough and now, it’s times for a regime change and free Iran under the leadership of a courageous woman Mrs. Maryam Rajavi.

* Khalil Khani is an Environmental Specialist and a Human Rights activist. He holds a Ph.D. in Ecology, Botany, and Environmental Studies from Germany and has taught at the University of Tehran and the Hesse State University in Germany. He is also a Doctor of Medical Psychology from the United States.

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