Farmers in eastern Esfahan province yesterday, Feb. 27 fought off police special forces sent to provide security for the repair of a water pipeline that was destroyed last week, in a violent water dispute between Esfahan and Yazd.
In scenes of the fight's aftermath, captured on phone cameras, angry farmers and local residents of Varzaneh, 80km east of Esfahan, threw stones at the burning busses that had brought the police.
Another video shared on an Iranian community website that night showed several buildings on fire in Khorasgan, eastern Esfahan. The cameraman said that five people had been killed. Police and paramilitary units on motorbikes had crushed an earlier protest, and electricity and mobile-phone service had been disconnected, according to the person who uploaded the video.
The dispute started last Friday, Feb. 22 when Esfahani farmers burned pumps and line-control systems that brought water from Esfahan’s Zayanderud River to the city of Yazd. Local farmers say factories in Yazd are depriving local farms of water.
The Zayanderud River is Iran’s second-longest river, whose water has been diverted 270km (168 miles) to Yazd for the past 13 years. This has threatened the livelihoods of Esfahan’s farmers and left Esfahan City’s once-famous river dry.
“This used to be like Paris,” said a guitarist playing to a group of friends in one of the arches that once directed water under the ‘The Bridge of 33 Arches’ in central Esfahan. “They have cut the heart out of our city so they can have industry in the middle of a desert.”
On Tuesday, Feb. 26, Yazd Governor Mohammed Reza Fallah Zadeah told Iran’s labor news agency that an intelligence officer had been sent from Tehran to “restore security” in Esfahan. He said Yazd had been rationing drinking water since the pipeline was fist broken on Friday.
But on the same day, Hossein Mohammed Rezaye, the head of the Association to Support East Esfahan Farmers, said that the farmers have no issue with Yazd using the river for drinking water. They are against the industrial use of the water “while Esfahan goes thirsty.”
He said that drinking water requires a flow rate of only 500 liters per second, not the current 3,000 liters per second he claimed was being diverted to the desert city.
“We must understand the farmers who have a 3,500-year history of using this water defending their rights to water, and the rights of their wives and children, tooth and nail,” Rezaye said. “The guest [Yazd] has come and thrown out the homeowner, and they have the audacity to make demands.”
Hamid Reza Fouladgar, an MP for Esfahan, told parliament on Sunday he was against the destruction of the pipeline but that people “in the eastern part of Esfahan province can only make a living though farming, and if they don’t have access to water, their livelihoods are jeopardized.”
He said he had raised the farmers’ concerns with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, he said, had made promises but not delivered on them.
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