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Iranians Protest Government's Poor Response To Deadly Floods

Iran -- People have died and homes have been damaged after heavy rains caused severe flooding across Iran. (Photo: Poldokhtar)
Iran -- People have died and homes have been damaged after heavy rains caused severe flooding across Iran. (Photo: Poldokhtar)

Iranians affected by the county's worst floods in a decade have been staging angry demonstrations against what they say is an inadequate relief response by the government.

With heavy rains drenching much of the country since March 19, floods have swept through hundreds of towns and villages in 26 of Iran’s 31 provinces, killing at least 67 people, based on latest numbers announced April 5.

Thousands of people have sheltering for days in the open with little food or warm clothes as the rains have continued.

Protesters also have been venting anger at the government's decision to release water from major dams that are near overflowing, saying the move threatens to destroy their homes, farmland, and livestock.

Videos on social media, which could not be independently verified, showed what were said to be protests in the mountainous Lorestan Province and the oil-producing Khuzestan Province.

Both of those provinces have been especially hard hit by floods that have forced evacuations of dozens of towns and villages and caused massive damage to homes and infrastructure.

One video uploaded to social media on April 4 showed an angry crowd surrounding the vehicle of Ahmad Khadem Sayyid al-Shohada, an Iranian army commander who is coordinating relief efforts along the Karun River in Khuzestan Province.

Sayyid al-Shohada said “Young protesters in the region were nervous and emotional, but we will carry on with relief work and saving people’s lives regardless of their anger.”

The commander added: “ In some areas we need to remove barriers in order to allow flood water to run downstream although this measure may cause damages in the farmlands.” Some farmers are reportedly opposed to leaving their farmlands at any cost.

In the meantime, a war of words has been going on between the Rouhani administration officials and IRGC commander that highlights their differences over the way relief efforts should be furthered.

Earlier, IRGC Public Relations Chief Ramezan Sharif denied “clashes between the people and IRGC units” over forced evacuation of homes in flood-hit areas. Sharif ruled out such reports as “propaganda.”

Another protest referred to in Iranian media reportedly took place during a visit by a local MP to Pol Dokhtar in Lorestan province.

Videos released on social media on Wednesday show people chanting slogans in protest to a visit by former IRGC commander-in-Chief Mohsen Rezai.

Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported that during these two visits, “Angry people in Pol Dokhtar who were protesting against shortcomings in relief efforts because no one had tried to solve their problems, showed radical reactions.”

At the same time, Islamic Re[public officials stressed that “all of the damages caused by flood will be compensated by the government.”

Addressing flood-hit people, Majles Speaker Ali Larijani said Wednesday night: “Do not worry about compensations.” In another development, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said “Damages made to houses and farmlands should, and will be compensated.”

This comes while observers and social media users have reminded that damages sustained in previous natural disasters in the past years have not been compensated. They referred to quake-hit areas in Western Iran where people are still living in tents more than a year after an earthquake hit the area.

Authorities in Khuzestan, where a state of emergency has been declared, have ordered evacuations from dozens of villages ahead of releasing water from a large dam in the region.

Shohada told Iran's state-run IRNA news agency on April 3 that locals resisted, and that “emotional” farmers already hit by floods “showed their objections.”

Both the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Iranian army are taking part in relief efforts.

The protests come amid accusations by the IRGC that President Hassan Rohani's administration has mismanaged the relief response.

Many Iranians see the relief effort as inadequate. Critics say the government's effort have been too small and authorities are unable to cope with the immediate needs of tens of thousands of people who have been affected.

One IRGC commander, Mohammad Pakpour, said on April 3 that there has been "no management" of the rescue or aid operations in neighboring Lorestan Province.

Sarem Razaee, the head of the nongovernmental Iranian Red Crescent Society, said the town of Pol-e Dokhtar in Lorestan was facing a "super crisis."

Pakpour said government officials do not "dare" to go to the region because the "people are in a rebellious mood."

Pakpour also said that citizens evacuated from the area "are in a sorry state and conditions are bad."