Water Problems Stoke Unrest in Iran

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Today’s blog is a guest post by Noam Raydan, Geopolitical Analyst at ClipperData, who assesses current escalating tension in Iran amid water concerns in the oil-rich southern region of the country. 

The Iranian government is now forced to address long-neglected socioeconomic problems that have been growing in its oil-rich southern region, home to various ethnicities, including a tiny Arab minority. The recurring problem of saline water has left many without access to drinkable water amid scorching temperatures, and has fueled local protests. This is not the first time security forces have tried to suppress them. 

Since the weekend, protests have been escalating in various cities in the Khuzestan province whose population is mainly made up of Arabs, Fars and Lurs. The majority of the Arab population lives in rural and marginalized areas. This province is also where an Arab separatist movement has long sought independence from Iran. If the water crisis is not addressed immediately, and if the security forces suppress protesters without offering them solutions, the protests could turn violent. 
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Protests also erupted last month in other Iranian cities, including Isfahan, Tehran and Kermanshah, and these came on the heels of mounting U.S. pressure on Iran, and renewed sanctions. The combination of rising internal unrest and external pressure raises the stakes. Violent suppression would hurt Iran’s standing in Europe, making it more difficult for the Europeans to resist American pressure to reimpose sanctions. 
Iran crude and condensate exportsIran has accused its rivals, namely the U.S., Israel and their regional allies in the Gulf of fishing in troubled waters.  On June 10, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Iranian people in a video message, “offering” Israel’s technology to solve Iran’s water problem that has not only affected people’s livelihood but also operations at an oil facility in Abadan in the Khuzestan province. 
Late last month, the saline water disrupted operations at the Abadan petrochemical complex.  MP Gholamreza Sharafi, a member of the Energy Commission, said that the saline water has “eroded industrial equipment, pipelines and radiators used in petrochemical complexes and refineries.” Abadan refinery is located near the petrochemical complex. It is Iran’s oldest crude processing plant, and has a nameplate capacity of 435,000 barrels per day. On June 27, an explosion rocked the petrochemical complex, but the cause behind it remains unclear. The complex was reportedly undergoing maintenance when the blast occurred.