In parched Afghanistan, drought sharpens water dispute with Iran
By Rupam Jain
Severe drought across much of Afghanistan is spurring plans to build new dams to help farmers such as Dawoodzai. It is also aggravating tensions with Iran over supplies from the Helmand - a decades-old dispute that has fed accusations that Tehran is helping the Taliban insurgency.
Afghan officials say their country, which has one of the lowest levels of water storage capacity in the world, needs the extra dams to feed its agriculture sector, the mainstay of the $20 billion economy, which has been brutally hit by drought.
With drought prevailing across the region and protests against water shortages rocking Iran, Afghanistan’s announcement in April that it would press ahead with plans for new dams and reservoirs prompted objections from the Tehran government, which fears its supplies will be cut.
At the center of the dispute is the Helmand river, which runs through much of Afghanistan from its source in the mountains north of Kabul, feeding the Sistan wetlands in the border regions of the two countries.
Water from the Helmand River is in principle shared under a 1973 treaty, which assigned Iran 820 million cubic meters of water a year. But with Afghanistan at war for the past 40 years the supply has been erratic.
“It is not like we are forcing Afghanistan to give us water,” said a senior official in Tehran working in the irrigation department. “They have to honor the water sharing agreement and seek our consent to prevent environmental damage caused by their dams.”