EghtesadOnline: Iran and Afghanistan signed an agreement in Kabul on Thursday on the optimal use of water sharing from the Hirmand (also known as Helmand) River.
On the last day of the 20th round of two-way talks between the two neighbors, the two countries agreed that for the next six months advanced measuring instruments would be installed on the Hirmand River for regular and efficient implementation of a 1973 mutual water treaty, the Energy Ministry news portal Paven reported.
“The two sides emphasized that the plan outlining the use of Hirmand River should be devised in a way that the two nations, especially residents of Sistan and Baluchistan Provinces in Iran and Nimruz Province in Afghanistan, benefit from it,” Deputy Energy Minister Qasem Taqizadeh Khamesi said.
Negotiations centered around resolving disputes over the share of the two countries from the river, which was determined as per the 1973 deal signed in Kabul, according to Financial Tribune.
According to the treaty, Iran's share from the river is 22 cubic meters per second.
Furthermore, Iran could make no claim to Helmand in excess of the volume specified in the treaty, even if additional water is available in the Helmand’s lower delta.
As per the deal, Afghans have an obligation to allocate 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. However, they respected both agreements in the breach.
The result has been that in the past two decades the part of Hirmand River inside Iran is dry for almost 10 months in a year.
Helmand 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 Sistan and Baluchestan and Nimruz provinces.
Prior to the construction of dams on Helmand River, nine billion cubic meters of water flowed into the Hamoun wetlands in Sistan and Baluchestan per annum. Now that has declined to less than 820 million cubic meters a year, energy ministry data show.
Over the past year, Afghanistan has blocked the flow from Hirmand into Iran and the result is that the inflow of water decreased substantially.
By extension, the outcome has been that people in the southeastern dry regions are grappling with water and food shortages because their livelihood for centuries has depended largely on farming and animal husbandry. With long and severe water shortages, unusually large numbers have lost their jobs and are migrating to the bigger cities.
Hamoun wetlands in Sistan and Baluchestan are considered a vital resource for the local population including residents in the provincial capital Zahedan.
Suffering from drought for more than a decade, the wetlands are now a source of dust storms that hit the underdeveloped and increasingly parched regions at regular intervals.
However, heavy rains in February in Afghanistan as well as torrential rainfall in March across Iran helped increase the level of water in Hirmand River and Hamoun wetlands after two decades.
Taqizadeh Khamesi also said given the capabilities in the energy and water sector, Iran’s Energy Ministry is able and willing to cooperate with Afghanistan in relevant fields and help launch a Water Research Center.
Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian will travel to Kabul in the near future as the head of the Economic Cooperation Commission of Iran and Afghanistan, he said.