Amid a recent drought in south-eastern Iran, the dispute between Afghanistan and Iran over the rights to the waters of the Helmand River have re-emerged, leading to violent clashes. A violent incident took place on the 27th of May in which Iranian border guards and Taliban fighters opened fire, killing two people. However, the Afghan government has recently recommitted itself to the terms of an agreement on the shared waters of the Helmand River.
The two countries have enjoyed peaceful relations for many years, but the dispute over the rights to the use of the waters of the Helmand River dates back many decades. Falling water levels that are the result of a record drought in the region have induced both parties to try to secure their share of the waters and have led to conflicting claims over the Helmand River’s water. Iran has accused the government of Afghanistan of altering and restricting the flow of tributaries of the Helmand River by constructing dams
The Helmand River originates in the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan and flows through the country for most of its 1,150 km route, ending in Lake Hamon in the Sistan wetlands which are shared by the two countries. Iran depends heavily on this water for irrigation in the southern province of Sistan-Baluchistan. The two countries signed a treaty in 1973 allowing Iran a flow of 22 cubic metres per second with an additional option to buy four cubic metres per second in years of average or ‘normal’ water flow. This agreement, however, has never been ratified due to political changes and war in Afghanistan.