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Bakhtiari Farmers Clash with Security Forces, One Dead

Demonstrations by farmers over water diversion projects in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province led to violent clashes with the Iranian security forces last week, leading to one death and the torching of the local court house.

A peaceful demonstration by locals in Boldaji, a town of around 10,000 people, descended into violence on 19 July as government forces brought in riot police to stifle the protesters.

In running battles, angry protesters chased riot police through the streets with wooden sticks and stones with the Iranian government temporarily losing control of the town.

Water resource disputes are growing throughout southwest Iran, which is home to indigenous non-Persian groups such as the Bakhtiari, Lor and Ahwazi Arabs, as rivers are being diverted to ethnic Persian provinces such as Esfahan. Dams in the Zagros mountains have taken significant amount of water from rivers such as the Karoun and Karkheh, leaving once verdant land further downstream parched and undermining farm productivity.

In Ahwaz City, protests have been popular and angry, but non-violent. However, as livelihoods are increasingly affected by river diversion in regions were unemployment is running at 30-50%, environmental problems are prompting increasing unrest.

The dams are used to produce hydroelectricity so that the Iranian government can maximise the amount of crude oil for export. The diverted waters are intended to sustain cash crop production in Isfahan and Yazd, which themselves are suffering the effects of global climate change with lower rainfall.

However, the desertification of southwest Iran, particularly the drying of the ancient marshlands, is leading to dust storms, reduced humidity and lower rainfall. The toxic dust storms, which now stretch as far as the capital Tehran, are also causing widespread respiratory problems and increasing the incidence of cancer. The loss of farm output is raising the price of staple foods, not just in the southwest but throughout Iran.