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Iran: protests rock Ahwaz region over water shortages

Human rights groups in Ahwaz have reported protests due to extreme water shortages in the south-west Iran region. Videos posted online by Ahwaz rights activists showed demonstrations occurring primarily at night, along with tyres being set on fire and roads blocked in Khuzestan.

Riot police reportedly used gunfire to disperse the protesters. Local officials have reported that three protesters were killed. The regime in Tehran has acknowledged only one death.

Reports state that residents of Ahwaz, primarily Arab minorities in the country, are outraged over a lack of clean water. They blame Tehran's building of new dams for this.

The country has faced rolling blackouts for several weeks now, in part over what authorities claim is a drought hitting the nation. As precipitation has decreased by almost 50 per cent in the past year, hydro-electric dams with dwindling water supplies have been left to power the country. The chronic water shortages are most severe in Iran's border provinces, including Ahwaz. Their residents view the issue as part of an intentional policy of favouring the essential needs of ethnic Persians.

Ahwazis claim that Tehran purposefully diverts water from their area and constructs dams and industry in their marshlands, forcing them to leave. Due to the strategic significance of the province, the government has deliberately made efforts to reduce the ethnic Ahwazi majority in Khuzestan for decades. The regime encourages ethnic Persian and other non-Arab citizens to move to the province for demographic reasons.

READ: Youth killed in Iran water crisis protests

The UN Human Rights Council's special rapporteur on Iran Javid Rehman cited "reports of forced evictions in ethnic minority areas" affecting Ahwazis in his Spring 2021 report.

The Ahwazi Arabs also face employment discrimination in the oil and gas industry in Khuzestan; while Persian residents hold high-paying jobs, ethnic Arabs in the region occupy just five per cent of the province's management-level jobs.

Iran's economy has been crippled due to US sanctions and the Covid-19 pandemic. Discontent over growing unemployment and wages not being paid has grown along with an inflation rate of more than 50 per cent in recent weeks.

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