EghtesadOnline: Iran and Afghanistan started a new round of talks on water sharing from the Hirmand (also known as Helmand) River and its tributary.
Afghan deputy minister of water, Khan Mohammad Takal conferred Saturday in Tehran with Abbas Soroush, deputy manager at the National Water and Wastewater Engineering Company at the Energy Ministry, ILNA reported.
"Negotiations focused on resolving the dispute over the critical share of the two countries which was determined as per a treaty signed in 1973 in Kabul," the news agency said, adding that Kabul had not fulfilled its commitments.
As of Sunday evening there was no official report on the outcome of the meeting and if there had been any breakthrough, according to Financial Tribune.
The two neighbors signed the treaty in 1973 that says Iran's share from Helmand is 22 cubic meters per second and an additional 4 cubic meters per second for "goodwill and brotherly relations", according to Mohammad Zahir Shah, the king of Afghanistan at the time.
Reportedly, the treaty was mostly to the detriment of Iran because not only did it recognize all dams and canals that the Afghans had built on the shared basin, it also reduced Iran’s annual water right to as low as 800 million cubic meters.
Furthermore, Iran can make no claim to the water of the Helmand in excess of the volume specified in the treaty, even if additional water may be available in the Helmand’s lower delta.
As per the deal, Afghans should have allocated a specific amount of water to Iran in different seasons. They are also obliged not to restrict Iran's share of the joint basin under any circumstances.
"It is regrettable that they have breached both obligations in the breach," Jabbar Vatanfada, director general of the Bureau of Transboundary Waters at the Energy Ministry said.
According to Vatanfada, this is the 19th round of two-way talks since 2004, but it is the first time that high ranking officials from the two neighbors have met, indicating the significance of the issue.
Differences between the parties must be resolved through diplomatic means, or thereafter with the good offices of a third party.
Failing resolution, the treaty outlines a detailed arbitration process that includes fact-finding and creation of an arbitration tribunal. Should the parties not agree upon a suitable chair of the arbitration tribunal, the United Nations shall be requested to appoint one.
"The dams built on shared rivers, particularly the Hirmand River, are at the heart of a long-running dispute between the two neighbors," the official was quoted as saying by Iran's Radio Eqtesad.
A major issue today in the Helmand Basin is Afghanistan’s pursuit of water development projects. It is renovating the Kajaki Dam and constructing Kamal Khan on the Lower Helmand River. It is also planning the construction of Bakshabad Dam on Farah River, another joint basin.
Afghanistan's ambassador in Tehran believes his country is providing Iran's fair share of the water from the river and “positive developments have taken place” regarding other joint water resources.
"There is no problem regarding water sharing from the Hirmand…The two countries are committed to the terms of the Helmand River Water Treaty, and media reports that Afghanistan is not providing [Iran's] share are incorrect," Nasir Ahmad Nour told ISNA.
Prior to the construction of dams on Helmand River, nine billion cubic meters of water flowed into the Hamoun Wetlands in Sistan-Baluchestan Province per annum. Now that has declined to less than 800 million cubic meters per year, Energy Ministry data show.
Over 70% of the southeastern Hamoun Wetlands (also known as Hamouns) in Sistan-Baluchestan is drying up, largely because of Afghanistan's controversial dam construction on its tributaries.
Ahmad Nour is of the opinion that the main contributors to the current dilemma are climate change, steep decline in rainfall and rising water consumption.
Hilmand River — the longest watercourse in Afghanistan — rises in the Hindu Kush mountains west of Kabul and empties into the Hamoun wetlands that straddle the border between the two countries, seeping into the Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchestan and Afghanistan's Nimruz and Farah provinces.