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Wednesday, 19 June, 2002, 19:00 GMT 20:00 UK
Iran speaks up for water rights
Dried-up lakebed
Drought and Taleban regime dry up Iranian lake
Iran is raising its voice in a long-running dispute with Afghanistan over water rights.

Four years of drought has left Lake Hamoun in eastern Iran completely dry.

UN officials said that the effects of the drought were exacerbated when the Taleban dammed the Helmand River in central Afghanistan, which waters the lake.


Now that the Taleban militia has collapsed it is time for a new round of negotiations

Iran Daily

An Iranian official has now declared that greater precipitation in Afghanistan means that water can again be allowed to flow across the border.

The top environmental official in Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan Province, where the lake is situated, called on the Iranian Government to press Afghanistan to co-operate.

Zabihollah Akrami said that Iran should claim its "rights to the water of the Helmand River not only to save Lake Hamoun, but to spare the residents of the Sistan region", the Iranian news agency Irna eported.

"This year fairly good rainfall and snowfall has been observed in central Afghanistan," he said.

Migration

As recently as the late-1990s, thousands of tonnes of fish were being caught from the lake, but now dozens of villages are disappearing beneath sand.

Dead fish
The drought has economic and environmental impact

Seasonal gales, known locally as The Winds of 120 Days, are blowing the fine sand from the exposed lake bed into dunes that are covering the deserted former fishing villages.

Newspaper editorials have also called for the Iranian authorities to push the new Afghan government to help bring the lake back to life.

"Now that the Taleban militia has collapsed it is time the Foreign Ministry started a new round of negotiations with the interim Afghan government to resume the flow of Helmand water," The Iran Daily said earlier this year.

It said that this would promote economic and agricultural activity in Sistan-Baluchistan and increase prosperity in the province.

"Life depended on the waters of the lake," said Dr Aboqassem Mukhtair, who represents the area in Iran's parliament. "Without the lake, people's lives are in danger. Many are considering migrating elsewhere."

Long dispute

The dispute on sharing the waters of the Helmand river has a long history.


There is no life here anymore, only dust and sand

Iranian villager

The dispute arose in the mid-19th century after the Herat region was separated from Iran and integrated into Afghanistan.

Iran Daily wrote that British interference and other regional events weakened Iran's territorial rights.

Iran says that agreements in 1926 and 1928 to share water on a 50--50 basis have not been honoured, and it filed a complaint with the United Nations after World War II.

A lengthy negotiation process led to a new agreement in 1972. But this was disregarded by the Taleban after they came to power in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s.

Paradise destroyed

Lake Hamoun is the most visible result of the competition for water resources between the neighbours.

Iran's largest body of freshwater, it once covered over 4,000 square kilometres and supported thousands of hectares of pasture, cane plantations and forest.

Deer, fox, otters, wild cats and several species of migratory birds flourished in the surrounding wetlands, but have now all but disappeared.

"Life used to be pleasant here," Gollbibi Chari, 60, a villager who has spent her entire life in the vicinity of the lake told the New York Times. "But there is no life here anymore, only dust and sand."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

08 Feb 02 | Country profiles
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