NIMROZ -- The Kamal Khan Dam in Chahar Burjak district of Nimroz province is now full for the first time since its inauguration in March 2021, bringing new opportunities for irrigation.
The dam is capable of storing 52 million cubic metres of water, irrigating more than 180,000 hectares of land and generating 9MW of electricity.
Work on the Kamal Khan Dam started in 1971, but the project repeatedly suffered interruptions from wars and Iran's interference.
Dozens of security personnel sacrificed their lives to protect the dam during its construction.
Currently more than 50 million cubic metres of water are held in the dam, which will be enough to irrigate the fields of farmers in the province during the upcoming summer season, said Assadullah Maal, director of the Kamal Khan Dam project.
"This is still the beginning of the rainy season, and so far in the past two weeks, two basins of the dam have been filled with water," he said.
"If there is no rain, the water flowing from [Kajaki Dam in Helmand province] will keep Kamal Khan Dam full for at least another year," he added.
"Out of the three water drainage channels of the dam, one of them has been partially opened to irrigate farmlands in Chahar Burjak district and the provincial capital," Maal said.
The turbines for Kamal Khan Dam have been delivered, and are expected to be installed in the coming months to generate electricity, according to Maal.
Nimroz province has a hot and dry climate, with thousands of hectares of land that could be cultivated with adequate water.
With the inauguration of the Kamal Khan Dam, cultivation of these fertile lands will be possible.
Bismillah, 75, a resident of Zaranj city who has been farming for the past 40 years, owns almost 100 jeribs (49.4 acres) of land.
The inauguration of the Kamal Khan Dam and the ability to use its water have been lifelong dreams, he said.
"I feel so happy that Kamal Khan Dam is constructed. I hope to use its water throughout the year," he said.
"If the dam water continues to flow, we will be able to irrigate our crops and have a larger harvest," Bismillah said.
Without water, nothing can be done, he said.
Sayed Ahmad Baloch, a farmer in Chahar Burjak district, said that he regrets not having been able to use the Helmand river in past years.
"The flow of water from the Kamal Khan Dam brings us hope. We are now able to irrigate our fields during all seasons and cultivate our lands twice a year," he said.
"I have been irrigating my fields with groundwater via water pumps for several years. The water level went very low, but since the Kamal Khan Dam became operational, the groundwater in our area has risen to past levels," he added.
Baloch said he suffered in the past from water shortages and drought, adding that he hopes to utilise the dam's water to establish an orchard and grow vegetables.
The Kamal Khan Dam is also enabling Afghanistan to better control the flow of water from the Helmand river.
Under the 1973 Helmand River Water Treaty between Afghanistan and Iran, Iran has the right to receive 26 cubic metres of water per second from the Helmand river.
However, for decades, Iran has been receiving billions of cubic metres of free water annually, at an amount far more than what the treaty stipulated.
Iran received only 5% of its trans-boundary water rights from the Helmand river last year, according to Saeed Khatibzadeh, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson.
"And so far this year, no part of Iran's water quota has been given to our country," he said at a news conference Monday (January 24) in Tehran.
Mohammad Eddress Niazi, a resident of Zaranj city, said Iran has freely been using Helmand river water for several decades, but now instead of appreciating it, the country makes baseless allegations against Afghanistan.
"Contrary to the prevailing treaty, the Iranian regime has been digging large wells near the border of Nimroz province, and indiscriminately has been using the water of the Helmand river and the region's groundwater every year," he said.
"Iran used to receive free water for decades, and now that the water of the Helmand river is being managed, the country is facing water shortages. The Iranian regime cannot address the water shortages of its citizens," he added.
Afghanistan must charge Iran for every single drop of extra water that flows to that country, said Niazi.
It is a matter of pride that the construction of the Kamal Khan Dam is now complete and that Afghans can now manage their water resources and prevent the unnecessary flow of water to other countries, said Mohammad Zahir Alkozai, a resident of Nimroz.
"When water from the Kamal Khan Dam reaches farmers, they will be able to cultivate their fields, and it will be very good for the Afghan economy," he said.
"If farmers grow fruits and vegetables, we will no longer need to import such commodities from the neighbouring countries and we can use our own produce," Alkozai said.