“The devastating impact of the water crisis on the lives, health, and prosperity of the people of Khuzestan should be the focus of the government’s attention, not the protests of people who have been driven to despair by years of neglect,” Bachelet said in a statement.
“I am deeply concerned about the deaths and injuries that have occurred over the past week, as well as the arrests and detentions on a large scale,” Bachelet added.
Khuzestan province, with a large population of 5 million from Iran’s Arab minority, was the country’s main water source.
Bachelet’s statement noted that “alleged mismanagement over many years, including diversion of water to other parts of the country, along with nationwide drought, has drained the region’s precious life-saving resources in a manner that has proven unsustainable.”
In recent months, the course of the Karkha and Zahra rivers in western Khuzestan has dried up, as well as the Hawr al-Azm wetlands (or the Hawizeh marshes), according to the statement.
As a result, protests over water shortages and mismanagement erupted on 15 July in several cities across Khuzestan, with protesters including children chanting, “I am thirsty, water is my right,” among other calls clearly related to the current crisis.
Iran’s outgoing president, Hassan Rouhani, recently stated that citizens have the right to express themselves and protest “within the framework of regulations”, but Iran in general lacks effective channels for people to raise their grievances in any way other than protests, according to Bachelet, who said that It’s too late to change course.”