By Amir Taghati
The Gavkhouni wetlands have dried out due to a water diversion in the central province of Isfahan. The head of the Varzaneh Islamic Council, Hossein Azhari, has revealed that because of this, leishmaniasis, a severe disease, has infected hundreds of people in the town of Varzaneh.
The disease is caused by the bite of a sand fly. Its victims suffer large lesions on their faces and bodies. It is reported that 512 students, mostly girls, have contracted the skin disease. The disease is also called “the murderer of beauty” because the lesions resemble acid burns and leave hideous scars behind.
In an interview with ILNA state-run news agency, the Varzaneh official spoke to the extent of the infection, saying, “Despite health officials announcing that there are at most 900 infected people, we think that the numbers are much higher.”
Specific measures have not yet been taken to prevent the illness according to the city official. It appears that this disease will be treated as just another consequence of the Isfahan water diversion that has severely affected the livelihood of farmers in Varzaneh.
Early this week, farmers gathered in Isfahan to protest to the diversion of water into neighboring provinces’ industrial sites. They have been demonstrating and demanding their water rights for the last 10 days. They hold signs saying, “Where is my Zayanderud?”, which refers to the Isfahan river — now all but dried out.
“As Isfahan farmers, we will stand till death to get our legitimate and lawful rights,” another sign read.
Farmers from Khorasgan have also gathered in protest of the Isfahan water diversion.
According to the head of the Varzaneh Islamic Council, in the neighboring Yazd Province, water is being transferred to industrial sites “with high pressure pipes right in front of the people to places where there was nothing before and this has led to such prosperity (in other regions) that farmers leave their land to find work in Yazd Province.”
Recently, 18 Iranian parliamentarians from Isfahan handed in their resignations to protest the the violation of the farmers’ water rights. However, farmers say that most of the MPs stopped following the issue after a promise from the President about looking into the Zayanderud water crisis. The farmers say that their demands were put aside in the parliament with one promise which is unlikely to be kept.
Varzaneh city official, Hossein Azhari, said it was useless for farmers to pursue their water rights through the government. “It’s difficult for the people to see the water that is being transferred to somewhere else not far from where they live and not have access to it,” the city council official said. “The water is being transferred with high pressure piping to Yazd for industrial purposes, but instead, the thousands of years old Varzaneh farmlands have turned into barren land.”
Azhari explained, “The people who owned land are over 60 years of age and are incapable of working as laborers and no one will hire them anyway. What are they supposed to do? They have been abandoned.”
Most of the people of Varzaneh have no source of income other than meager government subsidies.