Iranian Policeman Killed in Water Protests in Oil-Rich Southwest

A police officer was shot dead and another was wounded during protests in Iran’s restive, oil-producing province of Khuzestan, state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported, in a sharp escalation of clashes between security forces and protesters over a water shortage.

The two policemen were part of a team dispatched to the southwestern town of Mahshahr on Tuesday evening in order to “clear it of rioters,” the agency reported.

Video footage shared on the mobile application Telegram, purportedly from late Tuesday night, showed large crowds of demonstrators chanting anti-government slogans in the town of Izeh. The region is home to Iran’s Arabic-speaking population, dozens of oil wells and some of the country’s most important wetlands and tributaries.

The videos cannot be independently verified by Bloomberg. On Wednesday, Tasnim news agency posted footage of a convoy of water tankers headed for Khuzestan.

The water shortages have battered farmlands and livestock in Khuzestan, sparking six consecutive days of protests that at times have deteriorated into clashes with security forces, according to state news agencies. At least one protester has been killed by gunfire, which authorities blamed on “rioters.” They dismissed as “fake” reports on social media that security forces had opened fire on crowds, causing more deaths.

The water crisis has been driven by both the hottest summer in decades and historical over-extraction of groundwater.

Last week the head of Khuzestan’s Water and Power Authority said water levels at the province’s dams -- a key source of power supply in Iran -- are expected to be 42% below normal levels until late September because of record low levels of precipitation and hot temperatures, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

While the protests are centered in Khuzestan, the crisis has reverberated across the country, crippling hydropower stations in cities including the capital, Tehran, which in May experienced its worst power outages since the war with Iraq in the 1980s.

The crisis comes as Iran’s efforts to revive its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and remove thousands of U.S. sanctions have been placed on hold until the country’s president-elect, Ebrahim Raisi, takes office in early August. Officials have blamed the sanctions for severely hampering the country’s ability to attract much-needed investment in its civilian infrastructure.

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