Farmers in a town in Isfahan that used to be wealthy and prosperous have now lost everything as a result of the government’s mismanagement of water resources.
The Zayanderud River once watered this region, flowing down from the Zagros Mountains, through the city of Isfahan providing water for farming towns like Qahdarijan, home to 35,000 people, some 470 kilometres south of the capital Tehran.
But it dried up years ago. Government policies have worsened the strain from drought and growing population. Authorities have increasingly built factories, sucking up large amounts of water. Water has also been diverted to other regions.
“The water cycle has been annihilated. The entire water of the river has been allocated to industry,” said an Isfahan environmental activist in July.
Qahdarijan is covered with agricultural land. This shows the long-standing dependence of the city’s economy on agriculture and, consequently, the life that Zayanderud, the largest river in central Iran, had brought to the area.
Over the past few weeks there have been gatherings by Isfahan farmers in Qahdarijan in protest to the water shortage and violation of their water rights.
The once wealthy farmers are now suffering from poverty
The representative of Falavarjan at the Isfahan Islamic Council spoke to ILNA state-run News Agency about some of the impacts that the water shortage was having on the people of Qahdarijan, which was the scene of major clashes and protests during the January unrest.
“The city of Falavarjan has about 270 thousand inhabitants and has three districts and most of the people work in the agricultural sector. I don’t exaggerate when I say that 90% of the people in Qahdarijan are engaged in all sorts of agricultural-related jobs”.
Most of the farmers cultivated onions when Zayanderud was still flowing with water. Until a few years ago, rice and other crops were also cultivated, but those were discontinued as a result of the water shortages.
“Some the people who were once wealthy, are currently so deprived and poverty stricken that they are covered by relief foundations such as the Emdad Foundation,” he said.
“Many of them are retired farmers who have large families and many children and relatives, and have no other source of income,” Hesam Nazari added.
“If this is not a catastrophe then what is it?” the Isfahan official asked in the ILNA interview.
Widespread unemployment in Qahdarijan
“If there is water in Zayanderud River, then all the people, especially those with water rights should have equal access to it. Of course farmers are more entitled since their livelihood depends on it,” the Falavarjan representative said.
“When a person has problems with his livelihood, he suffers very much. Unfortunately, at the moment, most people are unemployed and do not have an income in Qahdarijan”, he said adding that this would lead to a hike in social harms in the region.
Angry farmers’ protests will turn political
“The Ben-Brojen Plan, which incorporated providing a huge water supply to large industrial factories and using the water for other areas and many decisions that resulted from mismanagement has made the people angry,” Nazari said.
The representative of the city of Falavarjan in the Isfahan Islamic Council said that the people were so dependent on water that sometimes they cried out in desperation.
“The farmers say kill us or throw us out of Iran. Are we not as farmers part of the people of this country, they ask”, he said.
The Falavarjan representative said that the farmers just wanted justice in the distribution of water.
“Unfortunately, the Ministry of Energy does not take into consideration the approved decisions of the Supreme Water Council and ignores farmers,” he added.
“If officials cannot handle the demands of the protesters, they should know that these protests and demands may be exploited by the enemies of the Islamic Republic,” he said warning that protests would turn political.
According to reports, farmers in Varzaneh, Shatur, and Ziar, other cities in Isfahan Province gathered on Thursday to protest to scarcity of water and lack of access to water resources, among other demands.
This is not the first time that the farmers of Isfahan have protested against the corruption of the Iranian government. At the beginning of the year, Isfahan farmers staged similar protests and demonstrations that lasted for more than two months.