Water scarcity is increasingly fueling conflict in the Middle East. Khuzestan, in the southwest of Iran, is a compelling example. The province literally dried up. One of the main reasons are the dams build by Turkey, but even more so the dams build by Iran itself. 

 

Story

Between the reeds along the water’s edge are piles of clothes and pieces of cardboard that double as mattresses. Clothes are spread out on the rocks to dry. Strangers are regarded with suspicion and occasionally greeted with hostile shouts. This is where the junkies live, in huts that are somewhere between a garden shed and a bird’s nest. Made from rubbish and reeds, they face towards the water and away from society.

Former fisherman Abed Divani (60) knows all the addicts and greets them cheerfully. He still regularly takes his boat out on the river and often stops to chat. He has seen the river change. He used to spend long days on the water. He had five boats and caught up to 100kg of fish a day. Everyone in Ahvaz was dependent on the river, he says. “They grew up along its banks, used its water for drinking and agriculture and ate its fish.”

He has not been fishing for three years; there is no point. The fish on the market is now brought in from another province. He drives a pick-up truck and makes small deliveries. The job makes him sad. “But coming to the river every morning and seeing what has happened to it makes me just as unhappy, and angry,” he says. The Karun, once Ahvaz’s beating heart, has become a refuge for people on the margins of society.

Photography

Credits

Story and production
Ludo Hekman

Research
Ludo Hekman
Lisa Dupuy

Photography 
Danial Khodaie

Financial support
Free Press Unlimited

Publications

Hoe waterschaarste conflicten in het
Midden-Oosten voedt
Dagblad Trouw (Dutch)

The story of Khuzestan (Iran)
Fanack (English)

The story of Khuzestan (Iran)
Fanack (Arabic)