A major water dispute has broken out between Iran and Afghanistan amid a war of words between both sides.
Last week Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned Afghanistan not to violate the water rights of the Iranian people over their shared Helmand River, IRNA news agency reported.
Raisi said his government is determined to defend Iran’s water rights.
“We will not allow the rights of our people to be violated,” he said and warned Afghan authorities to take his words seriously, emphasising the importance of the Helmand River, which flows from Afghanistan into Iran.
He also urged Afghanistan to allow Iranian hydrologists to check the water levels of the river, which originates in the Afghan Hindu Kush mountain range.
Iranian officials have always stressed the importance of the implementation of the 1973 Helmand River treaty between Iran and Afghanistan, which envisions shared water resources.
President Ebrahim Raisi’s special envoy for Afghan affairs, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, said on Tuesday that Iran only received 27 million cubic meters of water out of the 820 million cubic meters it was entitled to under the treaty.
Drought has been a problem in Iran for 30 years, but has worsened over the past decade, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
The Iran Meteorological Organization says that an estimated 97% of the country now faces some level of drought.
The halt in the flow of water from Afghanistan has seriously affected the lives of hundreds of thousands in the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan.
On the other hand, Afghanistan officials say instead of threats Iran should come to the negotiation table.
And a social media star who is close to the Taliban even appeared to ridicule the Iranians by appearing in a video holding a bucket at the edge of a reservoir saying he wants to give water to Iran.
“I want to give water, so Iran’s president does not launch a military attack,” General Mobeen said in a video that went viral on social media.
The Taliban claim that there is not enough water to flow from the Kajaki dam towards the Iranian border, and that under the 1973 treaty they are only obliged to provide a certain amount of water to Iran if water levels are normal.
The dispute between the two countries over water is long standing but it has escalated in the past few years.
In March 2021 former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that while Afghanistan remained committed to the 1973 treaty “anything beyond the stipulated quota” required further discussion. He suggested that Iran should pay for extra water from the Helmand River by providing oil to his country.
More generally, water scarcity is a significant concern in the region, particularly due to increasing populations, climate change and limited water resources.
Afghanistan heavily relies on its rivers, such as the Amu Darya and the Helmand River, for agriculture, drinking water, and hydropower. Iran also shares these rivers and has its own water-related issues, including water scarcity and drought conditions.
Historically, there have been disputes over water resources in the region, primarily involving Afghanistan, Iran, and downstream countries like Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
These disputes have mainly revolved around the allocation and use of water from shared rivers. In some instances, these disagreements have severely strained relations between countries in the region.