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Water Scarcity Pits Farmers Against Each Other

Water pumping facility sabotaged east of Isfahan. November 25.

Water pipelines were again sabotaged November 25 in the city of Isfahan in Central Iran, reportedly by farmers angry about the transfer of water to the neighboring province of Yazd.

The destruction of the pipelines constitutes the 25th attack on water transfer infrastructure in Isfahan in less than a year, according to local authorities.

"The damage on Sunday was so extensive that we have not yet been able to repair it and restore the facility,” the director-general of the Yazd Water Department, Mohammad Mehdi Javadianzadeh, told state-run Iran Labor News Agency (ILNA).

The disruption has forced the residents of Yazd to draw poor quality drinking water from local wells. Authorities have cautioned that the local wells cannot satisfy demand for more than a few days, and soon there will be no potable water in the province.

Farmers, mainly from the eastern parts of Isfahan, have repeatedly held protest rallies and accused local authorities of water mismanagement. They demand a halt of water transfer to Yazd, arguing that sharing their water with the neighboring province has starved their own fields.

Farmers have warned that if their demands are not met within 48 hours, they will totally destroy the pipes and facilities for transferring water to Yazd.

Javadianzadeh told ILNA that three reservoirs and ten electricity pylons were destroyed in the attack.

"We are unhappy for the Isfahani farmers' loss, but meeting all their demands would require that the entire population of Yazd move to another part of the country,” Javadianzadeh said.

Iranian Interior Minister Abdor-Reza Rahmani Fazli has warned of dire consequences if the drought continues.

"If the drought continues, Iran will be facing a great disaster,” Fazli has ominously predicted.

Echoing Fazli's comments, Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian has also admitted Iran is struggling with the "monster" of water shortage.

"334 cities with 35 million people across Iran are currently struggling with water stress,” Ardakanian said April 21 in a speech to top members of President Hassan Rouhani’s administration.

The Isfahan farmers held several rounds of protests in March and April, demanding action by the government, arguing they have been unable to plant crops for the last few seasons. They have accused a number of former and current officials, including Ardakanian and pro-reform former President Mohammad Khatami, both of whom were born in Yazd, of favoritism.

The government has promised to address Isfahan farmers’ water needs by transferring water to them from less arid western mountainous regions with the Third Koohrang Tunnel project. But the farmers in those regions in the provinces of Chahar Mahal and Bakhtiari are protesting the transfer of their water to Isfahan.

Water transfer projects have led to protests across the country, including in the provinces of Khuzestan, Bushehr, Fars, Kohgilouyeh, and Boyer Ahmad.

Over the past decade, Iran has seen the most prolonged and severe drought in more than three decades, according to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). An estimated 97 percent of the country has faced some level of drought, Iran's Meteorological Organization says.