Iranian president Hassan Rouhani this week called for water cooperation among neighboring regional countries in overcoming environmental risk and maintaining peace, while tensions remain over Iran’s own actions dissipating water supply to a Kurdish region in neighboring Iraq.
Rouhani’s speech also criticized Afghan damming programs in particular, saying “We cannot remain silent about the thing which is apparently damaging our environment. Establishment of several dams in Afghanistan such as Kajaki, Kamal Khan and Salma in the north and south of Afghanistan…threaten a number of bordering provinces in Iran”.
Rouhani was speaking in Tehran at the International Conference on Combating Sand and Dust Storms which convened in Iran’s capital 3-5 July.
Sand and dust storms are on the rise in terms of severity and frequency in many parts of the world and are detrimental to human health, agricultural land, livelihoods, coastal and marine environment, infrastructure, and socio-economic systems, in affected countries and regions.
The Tehran Times, a news outlet closely associated with the government of Iran, reported the Iranian president as saying “The only way to live peacefully in the West Asia and Middle East region is adopting a win-win policy in the area of environment, helping and standing beside each other.”
The conference was hosted by the Department of Environment and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, with the cooperation of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations (UNDESA), UN Environment (UNEP) and the UN Development Programme UNDP).
“We cannot succeed in overcoming environmental challenges without cooperating with neighboring countries,” said Rouhani, urging “an end to regional wars, because they cause environmental degradations such as dust storms in addition to political crises”.
The Iranian president added that “Daesh (also known as ISIS) and other terrorist groups’ destructive actions such as destruction of farms turn agricultural lands into deserts which cause dust storms”.
Responding to Rouhani, the Afghan Ministry of Water and Energy 5th July said building dams on Helmand River is “Kabul’s top priority which is aimed at managing the country’s waters and improving the national economy”.
The ministry is reported by the Afghan TOLOnews as saying “Iran has used four times more water than stipulated in the Helmand River Treaty over the past few years - under the pretext of being in the neighborhood of Afghanistan. And meanwhile, Iran has built over 30 water dams on rivers which flow to Afghanistan – stopping the flow of water to Afghanistan. Iran, the ministry said, has used unprecedented volume of waters from Afghanistan’s Helmand and Harirod Water Zones, in the bordering areas with Iran, over the years”.
Afghanistani provincial governors had earlier this year accused the government of Iran of conspiring with Afghan Taliban leadership to target Afghan water damming projects.
The 1973 Helmand River accord between Iran and Afghanistan accepted the flow of water into Iran at twenty-two cubic meters per second with an option for Iran to purchase an additional four cubic meters per second in “normal” water years. However, the accord has never been implemented due to political developments including the 1973 coup in Afghanistan, the 1979 Iranian revolution, the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the rise of the Taliban and the 2001 US-led invasion.
Tensions Remain over Little Zab River
Meanwhile tensions have not dissipated around Iran’s blockage last month of river flows to a Kurdish area of Iraq associated with the Zei Bchuk river, also known as the Little Zab river.
Following a reported cutoff on 22nd June, Iran had appeared to promise restoration of river flow but, at 3rd July, Kurdish reports suggested that only a small amount of water had yet been released.
The stem in water flow is associated with construction of a hydroelectric dam on Zei Bchuk river in Iran’s own Kurdish city of Sardasht.
“The (now) released water does not even amount to 7 percent of the Zei Bchuk water,” according to the Kurdish-inclined Rudaw Media Network.
“Iran cut the flow of the river by 80 percent on June 22, but said on Monday (3rd July), that it would restore the water flow after the Kurdistan Region decreased water flows to south and central Iraq”, Rudaw reported.
Iran’s action has been criticized for causing humanitarian, agricultural and environmental problems for Iraqi Kurds, with particular attention drawn to effects on irrigation and fish-farming activities.