In parched Afghanistan, drought sharpens water dispute with Iran

  • nation in crisis
- REUTERS, KABUL

Jul 19, 2018-

Rafiqullah Dawoodzai says his fields were too dry to sow crops this year, the first time he has skipped a growing season in more than 40 years. The 60 acres he farms lie along the banks of Afghanistan’s Helmand River, but the country lacks the infrastructure to use its waters for large-scale irrigation.

Severe drought across much of Afghanistan is spurring plans to build new dams to help farmers such as Dawoodzai. It is also aggravating tensions with Iran over supplies from the Helmand--a decades-old dispute that has fed accusations that Tehran is helping the Taliban insurgency.

“We can see the Helmand River water, we can even go touch it, but we can’t bring it’s water to our farmlands,” said Dawoodzai, who grows wheat and lentils in the southern province of Helmand. “It is frustrating for every farmer to see large amounts of Helmand River water flowing into Iran.”

Afghan officials say their country, which has one of the lowest levels of water storage capacity in the world, needs the extra dams to feed its agriculture sector, the mainstay of the $20 billion economy, which has been brutally hit by drought.

With drought prevailing across the region and protests against water shortages rocking Iran, Afghanistan’s announcement in April that it would press ahead with plans for new dams and reservoirs prompted objections from the Tehran government, which fears its supplies will be cut.

The row underscores the growing strategic importance of water across the world. Water disputes have become common in South and Central Asia and elsewhere.

Earlier this year, the Taliban threatened to overrun Afghanistan’s western province of Farah, on the border with Iran, drawing angry warnings from local politicians that Tehran was using the insurgents to fight a proxy war over water.

“Iran is supporting the Taliban to disrupt developmental projects in Afghanistan, including water dams,” said Gul Nabi Ahmadzai, the former Afghan border police chief.

“They benefit from keeping Afghanistan unstable and want to control our resources,” he said.

Iranian diplomats in Kabul declined to comment. Tehran has repeatedly denied helping the Taliban.

“The dialogue between the two governments for resolving water issues is being pursued through diplomatic channels and linking this issue with Afghanistan’s internal issues has no logical, accurate or rational basis,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said in May, after the Farah attacks, according to a report from the Iranian Students’ News Agency.

 

  • Drought decimates Afghanistan’s annual crop cycle
  • Afghanistan set to build new dams to mitigate natural disaster
  • Iran warns Afghanistan against restricting flow of water

 

ERRATIC SUPPLIES

Afghanistan, a country where nearly 20 million people rely on farming, has seen a 45 per cent fall in agricultural output this year as the drought has bitten, officials at the ministry of agriculture said.

“We have to protect the national interest,” said Fahimullah Ziaee, who until June served as the country’s junior minister for irrigation and natural resources, and who participated in talks with Iran earlier this year. “We cannot be dictated to by any country on how to protect our natural resources.”

Published: 19-07-2018 08:49

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