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Iran and Afghanistan sign water deal after decades-old dispute

February 3, 2021 at 4:31 pm

An aerial view from a medevac helicopter shows the Helmand river Helmand province on 8 November 2011. [BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images]

Iran and Afghanistan have signed an agreement over water rights on the Helmand River, putting aside almost 50 years of disputes, IRNA reported yesterday.

Meetings between officials from Iran’s Ministry of Energy and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and their Afghan counterparts were held in the eastern city of Zabol which lies on the border of the two countries. It has been reported that both sides agreed to commit to a new survey of the Helmand catchment area and the granting of water rights based on agreements signed between the countries in 1973.

Iran’s Energy Ministry stated that the survey will focus mainly on the topography of the river so that Iran can begin construction of a reservoir. However, there is an ongoing dispute with Afghanistan over the construction of its Kamal Khan Dam, which Tehran argues has contributed to the drying up of its wetlands.

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The Afghan government, though, believes that the dam helps to ensure its own water security, given that it has what is believed to be one of the lowest levels of water storage capacity in the world, despite its “lifeline” of water supplied by the Helmand.

Although it was originally agreed that Iran would receive 26 cubic metres of water per second (850 million cm per year), it has been argued that it took advantage of Afghanistan’s years of conflict and lack of water infrastructure and has received much more than the agreed amount flowing across the border.

The Helmand River is the longest river in Afghanistan and constitutes 40 per cent of the country’s surface water. It also feeds into Iran’s Lake Hamun in the neighbouring country’s Sistan and Baluchistan province.

According to the Atlantic Council, the decades-old disputes over water between Iran and Afghanistan are said to date back to the 1870s when Afghanistan was under British control. A British officer is said to have drawn the Iran-Afghan border along the main branch of the Helmand River.

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