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Helmand Water Conflict

  May 09, 2023

Helmand Water Conflict

Q What is the context  ?


Central Idea

  • Iran and Afghanistan have been engaged in a prolonged disagreement over the sharing of water from the Helmand River.
  • Violent confrontations have occurred in the border region between the two countries in the recent past.


Q What are some key details about Helmand River ?

  • The Helmand River is the longest river in Afghanistan, spanning approximately 1,150 kilometers (715 miles) in length.
  • It originates near Kabul in the western Hindu Kush mountain range.
  • The river flows in a south-westerly direction through desert areas before emptying into Lake Hamun, which straddles the Afghanistan-Iran border.
  • Lake Hamun, fed by the Helmand River, is the largest freshwater lake in Iran.
  • The Helmand River is a vital water source for both Afghanistan and Iran, supporting agriculture, livelihoods, and ecosystems in the region.


Q What is the issue over Helmand River and Lake Hamun ?

  • Afghanistan’s longest river: The Helmand River holds great importance for Afghanistan as it is the country’s longest river, originating near Kabul and flowing through desert areas.
  • Iran’s largest freshwater lake: Lake Hamun, located on the Afghanistan-Iran border, is Iran’s largest freshwater lake and has been historically sustained by the Helmand River.
  • Drying up due to drought: The Lake has experienced a drastic decline in water levels and has largely dried up, attributed to factors such as drought and the construction of dams and water control infrastructure.
  • Economic Importance: Lake Hamun plays a vital role in the regional ecosystem and supports agricultural activities, livelihoods, and economic sectors in the surrounding areas.


Q What are the disagreements between Iran and Afghanistan (Taliban) ?

  • Fouling of the 1973 Helmand River Treaty: The agreement signed in 1973 between Iran and Afghanistan to regulate the allocation of river water has not been fully ratified or effectively put into practice.
  • Iran accuses Afghanistan of violating water rights: Iran has consistently accused Afghanistan of infringing upon its water rights, claiming that it receives significantly less water than agreed upon in the 1973 treaty.
  • Afghanistan blames climatic factors for reduced water flow: Afghanistan has refuted Iran’s allegations, citing climatic factors such as reduced rainfall and diminished river water volumes as the primary causes of the current situation.
  • Concerns over Afghanistan’s dam and irrigation projects: Tehran expresses concerns over Afghanistan’s construction of dams, reservoirs, and irrigation systems along the Helmand River, fearing that these initiatives negatively impact water flow into Iran.


Q What is status of Tehran-Taliban Relations ?

  • Previous ties between Iran and the Taliban: Prior to the Taliban’s capture of Kabul, Iran maintained diplomatic relations with the group, driven by shared opposition to the presence of US forces in the region.
  • Lack of formal recognition of the Taliban government: Despite refraining from formally recognizing the Taliban government, Iran has pragmatically engaged with the ruling group in Afghanistan to protect its interests, including the preservation of Lake Hamun.
  • Border clashes since the Taliban’s takeover: Following the Taliban’s rise to power, there have been repeated incidents and clashes along the Iran-Afghanistan border.


Q Why is Taliban furious this time?

  • Taliban’s interest in promoting agriculture: The Taliban seeks to prioritize agricultural development, which influences their approach to water management and distribution.
  • Tehran’s sudden attention to Sistan-Baluchistan after protests: Following nationwide protests, including Sistan-Baluchistan, Iran’s government has shown increased attention to the region due to its disadvantaged status and reliance on water resources from Lake Hamun.


Q What are the major hurdles in the resolution ?

  • Lack of interest: Both Iran and the Taliban show little interest in addressing the mismanagement of water resources and environmental challenges in the region.
  • Short-term focus on internal problems: Both Iran and the Taliban prioritize short-term solutions and focus on internal issues rather than actively resolving the water dispute.


Q What is the Current situation in Sistan-Baluchistan ?

  • Mounting public anger: The region of Sistan-Baluchistan in eastern Iran experiences growing public anger and frustration, largely driven by water shortages and other economic and social challenges.
  • Water shortages and other problems: Sistan-Baluchistan faces severe water shortages, contributing to economic and social difficulties in one of Iran’s poorest areas.
  • Setting up an inquiry commission: In an effort to address the recent border clash, Iran and Afghanistan have agreed to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate the incident.