KABUL -- Authorities in the western region of Afghanistan have accused the Iranian regime of illegally digging wells along the Helmand, Farah Rud and Harirud rivers in violation of the 1973 Afghan-Iranian Helmand River Water Treaty.
Iran siphons thousands of cubic metres of water daily in excess of the terms of the treaty, which entitles Iran to 26 cubic metres of water per second, officials say.
The Iranian regime each year draws millions of cubic metres of water from deep wells it has dug in the Helmand River basin and stores it in reservoirs, said Niamatullah Sediqi, a member of the Nimroz provincial council.
"The government of Iran has connected the reservoirs with agricultural lands through pipelines, providing irrigation water for large fields that earn [big] annual revenues," he said.
"Using heavy-duty water pumps, they push water from the Helmand River more than 200km to reach Zahedan in Iran, where this water satisfies the city's needs," he said.
The Iranian regime has been digging deep wells for years near the border between the two countries and mercilessly draws water from Harirud River, a high-ranking Afghan government official in Herat said on the condition of anonymity.
"There are hundreds of hectares of agricultural land, especially melon and watermelon fields, in Mashhad Province [of Iran] that are irrigated with water from the deep well dug in the Harirud Basin," he said.
The Iranian regime also dug a deep well on the other side of the border along Farah Rud River and pumps the water through a pipeline system to a number of Iranian cities for agriculture and drinking water, said Dadullah Qani, chairman of the Farah provincial council.
"The government of Iran has always mistreated its neighbours and disregarded their rights by violating common treaties," he said.
Afghanistan will gain the upper hand on Iran once it is able to manage its water resources, as water rights issues have had a direct impact on relations between the two countries for years, said Qani.
Interfering in Afghanistan's water affairs
Iranian officials themselves have acknowledged the existence of deep wells and large reservoirs along the border between the two countries.
Common hamuns -- traditional seasonal reservoirs -- in the Helmand Basin are drying up, which necessitates an assessment to determine whether it is due to water dams in Afghanistan or reservoirs in Iran, Abbas Araghchi, Iranian deputy foreign minister for political affairs, said in an interview with TOLOnews on July 19.
"Annually, millions of cubic metres of additional water flows to Iran, and the country uses it for free, but they don't have the right to dig wells and empty the river basin," said Naqibullah Azimi, a legal scholar in Nimroz Province.
Afghanistan has the right to control its water resources and ensure that its vast lands are cultivated, he said. Each country constructs dams for the prosperity of its citizens and manages its own water resources.
Any involvement by the Iranian regime to disrupt the construction of dams in Afghanistan is regarded as interference in the internal matters of the country, he said.
Afghanistan has the right to construct hydroelectricity dams, and no country has the right to interfere, he said, referring to to Tehran's support of the Taliban's destruction of dams and other related infrastructure.
The issue requires an investigation by international organisations, he said.
"According to international laws, Iran doesn't have the right to express even an opinion with regards to Afghanistan's dams, let alone interfering with these dams and supporting armed group to destroy them," he said.
"The Afghan government must do everything to stop Iran from interfering in Afghanistan's water affairs," Azimi said.
Iran must pay for additional water
If Iran wants to have access to more water than what it is entitled to according to the Helmand River Water Treaty, Tehran needs to buy it from Afghanistan, said Gul Ahmad Ahmadi, deputy head of the Nimroz provincial council.
"The government of Iran has dug five deep wells near Afghanistan's border in the Helmand River basin," he said. "Each of these wells are like lakes that have drawn millions of cubic metres of water for agriculture and drinking."
"Iran has used Afghanistan's water for free for tens of years, and they should no longer expect it for free," he said.
Tehran has not compensated Afghanistan for its water, but from now on it has to pay Afghanistan for each cubic metre of water it consumes, Ahmadi said.
"Iran strongly opposes the construction of the Kamal Khan Dam because the country is afraid that if they receive water as per the treaty, they will lose their agricultural productivity and will only have water to drink," he said.
"The Afghan government should take seriously the management of its water resources and try to finish work on the few dams in the western region as soon as possible so that water doesn't freely flow outside the country," said Bahram Haqmal, a civil society activist in Nimroz Province.
"The construction of dams helps improve the agriculture of Afghanistan, reduces the Afghans' reliance on imports from neighbouring countries and creates an opportunity for a stronger economy," he said.