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The Killid Group

Iran claims an unfair share of river waters

Written by Dad Noorani
Saturday, 11 June 2011 11:22

Iran claims an unfair share of river waters As Afghanistan's largest river, the Helmand River is crucial to the country as a source of water supply and irrigation. Yet, today this major artery of Afghanistan is damaged, the excess use of its waters by neighbouring Iran having deprived Afghanistan of a valuable resource.
Originating in the Baba mountain of the Hindukush range, the Helmund river travels 1050 kms through Afghanistan before reaching the Afghan-Iran border near Zabol. It is the biggest of the five major river basins in Afghanistan.
The river's water sustains life in an arid area marked by dry deserts of Margo Zara and Goad Zara on its right and left flanks, with the population settled along the river. It once made the province of Helmund the bread basket of Afghanistan. If the water of this river was harnessed it could provide a much larger arable area in the desert region which would also generate more employment.
The coveted waters of the river have been a cause for riparian disputes between Afghanistan and Iran for decades, settled through various international agreements.  In 1871 Gold Smith who was judging division of Sistan area between Iran and Afghanistan, gave an important part of Jahil Sistan to Iran. In the agreement he emphasized that to prevent disputes between the two countries arising over water sharing; neither party should dig canals increasing the water flow to their areas.
Over time the river changed its course (1896) and in 1905 MacMohan was appointed to arbitrate between the two countries. The agreement that was finalized awarded Iran the use of a third of the portion of water after Kamal Khan dam for irrigation. 
But in 1935 as a result of drought and Iranian pressure the issue of water division was raised once again. This time it was delegations of both countries met it was  agreed that the water flow to Iran after Kamal Khan would be increased to half.
Subsequently further investigation into the actual flow of water in the river basin was undertaken through surveys but there was no agreement until March 1972 when the two countries entered into an agreement signed between Musa Shafiq and Amir Abbas Huwaida, the Prime Ministers of Afghanistan and Iran. This agreement determined that the water flow from Afghanistan to Iran would be 22 cubic meters per second. An additional 4 cubic meters of water per second was to be granted by Afghanistan to Iran as a gesture of goodwill based on brotherhood and good neighborhood.
However the agreement has since been violated in several ways by Iran. (see also Killid magazine no. 464).
Though Iran contests the Afghan claims alleging that Afghanistan has decreased the flow of water, here are a few facts to the contrary. For example, the Jarica stream located in pillar 51. In accordance with the 1972 agreement, Iran could take 26 cubic meters water through this canal. However they have widened the stream and it now transfers 55 cubic meters water per second. The Kohak hydro electric dam has been established over this. After this it's divided into three branches called Zabul, Zahak and Nima Chaa. In addition to making changes in Jarica stream, the Iranians have made four other steams and all five streams currently transfer 150 cubic meters of water. Additionally, the Iranians have set 73 water pump machines over Helmand River that pump a large portion of water inside Iran.     
In the 27 km water border between Iran and Afghanistan, pillars 51, 52, 53 and 54 have been installed along both sides of the river. They have been destroyed by the Iranians so that one day they could instigate a dispute over installation of these pillars. In the past, after pillar 52, the Paryan River separated inside Iran. But today this river has been completely filled as Iran as made several other streams and there is no need for Paryan River.
After passing Shela Charkh in the vicinity of Siahak, the Helmund river flows toward Jahid Sistan. When there is sufficient water it forms the lakes Hamon Saberi, Hamon Puzak and Hamon Helmand which form the Jahil Sistan. Jahil Sistan has an area of 7500 kms with the larger portion of the area falling within Iran.
After filling Hamon Saberi, the additional water turns around Zabul city in Iran and again reaches the Iran-Afghan border. In the past, this water entered Afghanistan and flowed into Goad Zara and extended to Baluchistan in Pakistan. Recently, Iran has blocked the flow of this water and stores it inside Iran.  Iran has also dug several other canals that increase the water flow into Iran.
Iran has violated the 1972 agreement several times. In addition it is also making efforts to create problems for the establishment of dams on Kamal Khan, Khashrod and in other areas inside Afghanistan. The reason for this is to make sure that all of these waters should be stored in Iran. In addition to preventing establishment of Kamal Khan Dam, Iran also influences senior Afghan authorities through a variety of means so that they do not raise the issue of building the dam.

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