Iran’s foreign ministry’s spokesperson has said that Afghanistan is committed to observing Iran's water rights under a historical agreement date back to the early 1970s.
The statement was made as a response to remarks made by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as part of the inauguration of the Kamal Khan Dam in the country’s southwestern Nimroz province that borders Iran.
While addressing the opening ceremony on March 24, President Ghani said Afghanistan honors its commitments under the existing treaty with Iran on the division of water resources of the Helmand River, but “anything beyond the stipulated quota would require discussions.” The head of Afghanistan demanded Iranian oil in exchange for the river water.
Saeed Khatibzadeh, a spokesperson for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, said Tehran welcomed President Ghani’s remarks on Iran’s water rights.
“The Helmand River is governed within a specific legal regime, and according to an agreement signed between the two countries in 1973 and approved by the legislatures of both countries, Iran’s water rights are clearly defined and the Afghan government honors these rights,” Khatibzadeh said, according to a statement issued by the ministry.
“The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran welcomes the remarks of the President of Afghanistan to turn water into a matter of cooperation between the two countries and declares its readiness for this purpose,” he added.
Under the agreement signed in 1973, Afghanistan pledged to annually release 850 million cubic meters of water to Iran from the nearly 1,300-kilometer-long transboundary Helmand River basin. The treaty, however, was never implemented as Afghanistan had been locked in political turmoil and war for decades.
The newly inaugurated Kamal Khan Dam is a hydroelectric and irrigation dam located on the Afghanistan’s segment of the Helmand River. The hydroelectric plant produces 9 MW of electric power in addition to providing irrigation to about 175,000 hectares (432,434 acres) of agricultural land. Its reservoir has the capacity to store up to 52 million cubic meters of fresh water.
Construction work on the dam officially began in 1974 but were suspended after the 1978 Saur Revolution in Afghanistan. The first phase of the dam was completed under President Hamid Karzai’s administration in 2010. Work on the third phase of the dam began in 2017 by President Ghani and his administration.
Iran has long objected to the construction of the Kamal Khal Dam, arguing it would contribute to the drying up of its wetlands in the Sistan-Baluchestan border province. According to Iranian experts, Lake Hamun, located on the Afghan-Iranian border, as well as dozens of wetlands fed by the Helmand River waters may dry up as a result of water intake at the Kamal Khan Dam.
Masoud Tajrishi, deputy head of the Iranian Department of Environment (DOE), believes the dam’s activity will lead to the emergence of sand and dust storm sources not only in Iran, but in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Persian Gulf littoral countries.
The official from Iran’s foreign ministry, Saeed Khatibzadeh is convinced that the significance of Lake Hamun and the necessity of providing it with its water share is considered by the Afghan government. In addition, specialists in Iran have long been studying various options to reduce country’s dependence on foreign water sources.
“Iran has been studying various programs for years and implementing a number of projects including pumping desalinated water from the Oman Sea, using deep-water resources, pumping water from other internal sources and, most importantly, projects to optimize water consumption,” Khatibzadeh said.