EghtesadOnline: Iran's water rights from Hirmand (Helmand) River and the recurring dust storms in Sistan region were discussed at the 21st meeting of Joint Committee of the Hirmand Water Commissioners in Tehran last week, a deputy energy minister said.
“The Afghan side accepted a plan proposed by Iran on studying water rights and measuring systems at the common border and it was agreed that further studies be conducted jointly as per a timetable,” IRNA quoted Qasem Taqizadeh Khamesi as saying.
For the first time dust storms in Sistan were also discussed in detail, Financial Tribune quoted him as saying.
Iran is supposed to present a report on the volume of dust and ways to curb it, noted Taqizadeh Khamesi, who also is director of the National Water and Wastewater Engineering Company of Iran (Abfa).
The joint committee of commissaries of Helmand water is held annually since 2005.
Hirmand 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.
The river is a potential point of conflict on scarce water resources between the two countries.
It has a long history of agreements and conflicts. In 1969-1973, Iran was involved in intense negotiations with the Afghans to find a solution to the Helmand problem.
Water from the Helmand River is in principle shared under a 1973 treaty, which assigned Iran 820 million cubic meters of water a year, less than 10% of the river’s annual water flow.
Earlier this year, Afghan Deputy Minister of Water Khan Mohammad Takal said his country is committed to fulfilling its obligations over sharing the water from the Hirmand River and its tributary with Iran.
Iran is saddled with severe water shortages in its southeastern provinces bordering Afghanistan. A part of the problem, reportedly comes in the wake of Kabul's lack of commitment to respect the treaty.
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.
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 to build Bakshabad Dam on Farah River, another joint basin.
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. That has now declined to less than 800 million cubic meters, Energy Ministry data show.
Over 70% of the southeastern Hamoun Wetlands in Sistan-Baluchestan is drying up, largely because of Afghanistan's controversial dam construction on its tributaries.
The wetlands in Sistan-Baluchestan are a vital resource for the local population including residents in the provincial capital Zahedan. By depriving Iran of its water rights from Hirmand, the procrastinating government in Kabul is making things worse for the already water-stressed regions, turning the wetlands into barren desert.
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.