EghtesadOnline: Large-scale operations carried out by eastern and western neighboring states to control cross-border rivers have compounded Iran’s mounting water crisis, the head of the Water Affairs Faculty at Shahid Chamran University in Ahvaz, Khuzestan Province, said.
“Controversial policies pursued by Turkey and Afghanistan, which deplete water supplies in transboundary waters, such as shared aquifers, lakes and river basins, have deteriorated water paucity in Iran,” Mehdi Qomshi was also quoted as saying by ILNA.
According to the official, since a long time, without reaching an understanding with Iran, Turkey has launched dam construction initiatives on transboundary rivers, resulting in a substantial reduction of water level not only in Hour Al-Azim wetlands but also in Arvand River, both located in the southwestern Khuzestan Province.
Qomshi said frequent dust storms in recent years in southern areas can be directly ascribed to the unilateral action of Turkey in its excessive use of water resources.
The official noted that experts had warned Iranian officials about the ongoing crisis in 1990s, yet they turned a deaf ear to the warnings and made no efforts for finding novel solutions via water diplomacy.
Water experts, including Abbasqoli Jahani, a former member of World Water Council, believe that because of Iran’s ineffective water diplomacy in the past, Turkey and Afghanistan are not abiding by the treaties and memoranda of understanding they signed with Iran.
“Settling the key issue requires a supranational, integrated approach to cross-border water resource management based on legal and institutional frameworks and shared benefits and costs,” he added.
Iran has already suffered losses due to the lack of political dialogue on sharing water resources, the most significant being ecological damage resulting from Turkey's large-scale damming project.
Jahani emphasizes that transboundary water sustains the lives and livelihoods of vast numbers of people in border provinces.
In an era of increasing water stress, how these critical resources are managed is vital to promoting peaceful cooperation and sustainable development.
Hamoun River Outflow
Afghanistan has totally ignored Iran's share of Hamoun River, as the river's outflow to Iran is next to zero, Qasem Taqizadeh Khamesi, a deputy energy minister, said.
Since the beginning of the current water year (started Sept. 22, 2020), Iran has not received its fair share of water from Hirmand River (known as Helmand in Afghanistan) as per the agreement it had signed with Afghanistan in 1973, he added.
Khamesi noted that as per the treaty, Iran should have received at least 500 million cubic meters of water by now, but it has not and Afghan officials blame drought and security issues that are not justifiable.
Afghan officials, namely Naseer Ahmad Durrani, former deputy minister for agriculture, irrigation and livestock, claimed that they wanted to resolve the water share dispute with Iran, but some security issues were involved.
However, Iran says linking the water issue with Afghanistan’s internal affairs is irrelevant and irrational.
Water from Helmand River need to be shared under the 1973 treaty, which assigned Iran 800 million cubic meters of water a year. But with Afghanistan embroiled in foreign military invasions, domestic violence of terror syndicates, political infighting and civil strife for the past 40 years, the water supply has remained wildly erratic.
Following regular meetings in Tehran and Kabul since 2005 regarding Iran's water rights from the border river, the Afghan side agreed to pursue its water development projects on the shared basin in a way that will not harm Iran’s water share.
Kamal Khan Dam
Nonetheless, the inauguration of Kamal Khan Dam on Helmand River in March has severely affected water supply to Iranian wetlands and aggravated environmental problems in east and southeastern Iran.
Referring to previous agreements between the two states that oblige Afghanistan to supply an undisclosed amount of water into the lagoons, Khamesi said Iran has been pushing Afghanistan to uphold the water rights of the imperiled wetlands located along Iran’s border with neighboring state, but “they do not keep their end of the bargain”.
Iran is suffering severe water shortages in southeastern regions bordering Afghanistan. A big part of the problem is linked directly to Kabul’s breach of the 1973 agreement.
“The result has been that in the past two decades, the part of Hirmand River inside Iran is dry for almost 10 months a year,” he said.
Prior to the construction of dams on Helmand River, 9 billion cubic meters of water flowed annually into the Hamoun Wetlands in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan Province, which has now declined to 800 mcm.
The bottom line is that Tehran is not pursuing a robust water diplomacy at the regional and international level, and it will have to confront the consequences of the international water crisis within 10 years unless it adopts a no-nonsense and coherent policy on shared cross-border resources.