On the one-year anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody Iranian authorities took abrupt actions to prevent protest gatherings and tighten control over her home town of Saqqez.
This included the deployment of armed forces around Amini’s grave, putting her father under house arrest and blocking access to Aichi cemetery by opening the gates of the Cheraghweis dam and allowing water to surge out.
This sudden move carries significant environmental repercussions.
While the government had previously exacerbated water scarcity in Kurdistan through its water supply projects, this recent decision could result in even greater destruction.
The action took place less than a week after the catastrophic events in Libya. According to a UN report released yesterday, the devastating flood caused by the Derna dam collapse in that country has led to the loss of 11,300 lives, and 10,100 more people are missing.
The Iranian government’s official justification for the construction of the Cheraghweis dam, which began in 2014, was that it would promote agricultural development in over 60 villages and provide potable water to the region, but the project displaced local residents.
A significant proportion of residents of villages such as Balejar and Mirdeh, situated between the cities of Saqqez and Baneh, lost their agricultural lands, while some others were forced to migrate.
Just a month ago residents in various cities of Kurdistan, including Divandareh, located not far from Saqqez and the Cheraghweis dam, protested against their acute shortage of drinking water.
The Saqqez River, which started flowing after the sudden opening of the Cheraghweis dam, originates from the Qevakh area in Saqqez and stretches all the way to the back of the army barracks and organisational houses, serving as a pathway to access Aichi cemetery.
On the 40th day after Amini’s death this previously dry river became the route for transporting wounded people into the city after armed forces clashed with protesters.
“Historically there is no record of opening the dam’s water during this season, or even in autumn and winter. The release of dam water was typically based on conditions such as forecasts of heavy rain, snowmelt from the mountains, and dam overflow,” an environmental activist in Saqqez told IranWire.
The activist also pointed out that the Saqqez River has three structures - the Qevakh bridge, the Baharestan bridge, and the Kurdmal complex.
“Beneath the Kurdmal complex there are five gates, while there are six gates beneath the Baharestan bridge. In previous instances, such as during spring, dam water was released due to heavy rainfall," the activist said.
“The sudden opening of gates poses a particular danger to the recently constructed Kurdmal commercial complex, which lacks adequate standards for such conditions and has already exhibited signs of structural damage,” the activist added.
On the other hand, the sudden opening of dams can have several other consequences.
For instance, areas that have experienced prolonged periods without rainfall may get pollutants. The release of dam water can lead to pollution downstream and a change in water quality.
The activists in Saqqez emphasised that the sudden flow of a substantial volume of water in a dry river over a relatively long distance can lead to “atmospheric and weather changes”, affecting not only the organisms living in the river but also the broader environment.
The government appears to have disregarded all these consequences.
As of this afternoon no official has commented on the unexpected opening of the Cheraghweis dam.
Given that the nation is grappling with a severe water crisis, questions arise about the involvement of water managers in this decision and whether the provincial environmental authorities were aware of it.
“There seems to be no reason behind this action other than blocking our alternate route to Aichi [cemetery] and Mahsa’s grave,” a resident of Saqqez told IranWire.