People, Environment

Afghanistan Wants Regional Support for Dam Projects

Afghanistan Wants Regional Support for Dam ProjectsAfghanistan Wants Regional Support for Dam Projects

Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani said regional countries should not concern themselves with Afghanistan's dam construction and called for their support.

"We expect our neighbors not to worry about our dam projects and want them to help us in these endeavors," Ghani said in his opening remarks during a conference on Sunday, YJC reported.

He argued that water management schemes "help replenish groundwater resources", which "would benefit [other countries] as well."

"Afghanistan has a lot of surface water but we can only use about 30% of it; the rest flows to neighboring countries," said Ali Ahmad Osmani, water and power minister, following President Ghani's speech, BBC News reported.

This is unlikely to go down well with Iranian environment and water officials, who accuse Afghanistan of failing to uphold the water rights of the imperiled Hamoun Wetlands.

The Hamouns are a series of shallow marsh lakes in southwest Afghanistan and southeast Iran, constituting three lakes: Hamoun-e Helmand, which is entirely in Iran; Hamoun-e Sabari on the border; and Hamoun-e Puzak, which is almost entirely inside Afghanistan.

The three lakes are linked and fed by Afghanistan’s Helmand River.

The wetlands are predominantly fed by Afghan rivers, although the amount of inflow Iran is legally obliged to allow into the wetlands (around 60 million cubic meters per year) is not sufficient to help restore the embattled lagoons.

Hamouns are one of the major domestic sources of dust and sandstorms in southeastern Iran, battering cities such as Zahedan and Zabol. The latter was ranked by the World Health Organization as the most polluted city in the world (based on PM2.5 concentration) in 2016.

The construction of dams and canals in Afghanistan has led to diversion of water for agriculture in the Afghan provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and Nimrooz, causing water levels in the lakes to plummet.

To make matters worse, four reservoirs were built within Iran, diverting more water and speeding up the desiccation of the wetlands.

During a trip to Iran in 2015, President Ghani and Iran’s environmental chief, Massoumeh Ebtekar, discussed the abysmal state of the Hamouns and vowed to increase efforts to revive the wetlands, although Iranian officials say Afghanistan is not fulfilling its commitment.

With an area of about 50,700 square kilometers, the interconnected wetlands were considered the largest freshwater lake across the Iranian Plateau.


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