Thousands of protesters converged on Isfahan in central Iran to express their anger at the city’s vital river drying up due to drought and diversion.
The massive protest, which drew farmers and others from across Isfahan province, was the largest since protests against the water crisis began on November 9.
“Thousands of people from Isfahan, farmers from the east and west of the province, have gathered in the dry bed of the Zayandeh Rood River with one demand: let the river flow,” reported one reporter for state television in Isfahan, broadcasting live footage of the rally on Friday. .
“For years, there was no will to solve the problems of this important river,” said the journalist.
Images broadcast on the channel showed men and women in a crowd covering the riverbed clapping in unison.
“Plundered for 20 years” and “the water must come back”, they chanted.
Others were seen waving banners reading “Isfahan East has become desert” and “Our water is held hostage”, in images published by Iranian media.
The city of Isfahan is the third largest in Iran, with a population of around two million.
It is a tourist magnet because of its heritage sites, including a historic bridge that spans the Zayandeh Rood River, which has been dry since 2000 except for brief periods.
Drought is seen as one of the causes, but farmers also blame the authorities’ diversion of water from the river to neighboring Yazd province.
The Iranian government has promised to help farmers and solve the crisis.
“I ordered the ministers of energy and agriculture to take immediate action to solve the problem,” Iranian first vice-president Mohammad Mokhber told television.
Energy Minister Ali-Akbar Mehrabian apologized to farmers for not being able to provide water for their crops.
“We hope to fill these gaps in the coming months,” he said.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had previously met with representatives from Isfahan, Yazd and Semnan provinces on November 11 and promised to resolve water issues.
The largely arid Iran has suffered from chronic droughts for years.
In July, deadly protests erupted in southwestern Khuzestan province after drought led to widespread water shortages.
Iran is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world.
Water levels in the country’s lakes and reservoirs have halved since last year due to the severe drought affecting the country and the region as a whole, according to a report by the Iranian space agency in October.