Escalating Tensions over the Helmand River: Nimruz Province Struggles with Drought

Tensions between the Taliban and Iran are rising over water rights in the Helmand River, exacerbating Afghanistan’s ongoing water crisis and drought. Farmers and landowners in the southwestern provinces of the country are deeply troubled by the scarcity of water. They are now compelled to pay for both drinking water and irrigation purposes. According to local reports, the Kamal Khan Dam in Nimruz province, which Iran claims to have water rights to, is experiencing a severe shortage of water. As a result, farmlands in Nimruz province are drying up. The locals in Nimruz province express their concern, attributing it to consecutive droughts that have plagued the region. For the past five years, they have struggled to achieve sufficient yields from their farms.

According to Faiz Ahmad, a resident of Zaranj, the capital of Nimruz province, the people in the area are suffering from thirst. He states that the locals are compelled to buy water separately for their daily requirements and drinking. Additionally, he warns that if the drought persists and water remains scarce, a significant number of residents may be compelled to leave Nimruz province.

Faiz Ahmad further adds Nimruz province is facing severe drought, resulting in a scarcity of drinking water. He highlights that the water situation worsens each year. Currently, they have to purchase drinking water and water for household use. Faiz Ahmad further explains that they buy one gallon of drinking water for 10,000 Toman of Iran (equivalent to 15 to 20 Afghanis) and they obtain water for household use from tankers, with each tanker costing 300,000 Toman of Iran or 500 Afghanis.

Farmers in Nimruz province, specifically in the city of Zaranj, have been compelled to abandon farming and agriculture due to successive droughts and water scarcity. Landowners and farmers in the region express their disappointment, revealing that despite investing substantial amounts of money in farming and agriculture over the past five years, they have failed to attain substantial outcomes.

Abdullah Khan, a landowner in the city of Zaranj, laments the substantial financial losses he has incurred due to drought and water scarcity in recent years. He expresses, “I was once a prosperous landowner, but now we are counted among the impoverished. It has been five years of drought, and despite the discussions surrounding the construction of Kamal Khan Dam, we have not witnessed any advantages from its presence. In fact, Nimruz province has become even more deprived of water.”

Abdullah Khan reflects, “Just five years ago, we used to cultivate 400 to 500 acres of land, and we had a significant number of laborers. Agriculture was fruitful, and anyone interested in farming would join. However, now we haven’t even cultivated five acres because there is no available water source, and the wells cannot irrigate the land.” He goes on to share, “Last year, I planted wheat and had hopes for abundant harvests with melons and watermelons. Sadly, none of them thrived. Both the wheat and the melons failed, and all the expenses I incurred, from the tractor to the seeds and laborers, turned out to be in vain.”

In the midst of these challenges, certain farmers in Nimruz province have found ways to irrigate their lands even after planting wheat this year. A video clip shared with the Hasht-e Subh Daily showcases one of the province’s farmers using a tanker and tractor to bring water from remote areas to his wheat fields. This resident of Nimruz province remarks, “As you can witness, this is the current state of agriculture in Nimruz province in 2023.”

Amidst concerns over water scarcity and drought in Nimruz province, tensions have risen between the Taliban and Iranian authorities. In the latest development, President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran issued a warning to the Taliban, stating that the water rights of the people of Sistan and Baluchestan will be safeguarded. During his visit to the Sistan and Baluchestan province, President Raisi clarified that if the Kamal Khan Dam does not have sufficient water, the blame cannot be placed on the Taliban. However, if the water from the dam is available but fails to reach the people of Sistan and Baluchestan, the Taliban will be held responsible.

In response to the Iranian President’s strong statements, Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesperson for the Taliban, expressed concerns about the potential negative impact on the political relations between the two countries. In a press release, Mujahid emphasized that such statements are not beneficial for either party. He further reaffirmed the Taliban’s commitment to upholding the provisions outlined in the 1972 Treaty between the Afghan authorities and the Iranian government.

The statement further explains that severe drought has affected Afghanistan and the region in recent years, leading to a decrease in groundwater levels. Many provinces and southwestern regions of the country, including the Helmand River, are experiencing water scarcity, resulting in insufficient water for drinking and irrigation purposes.