Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Hopes Overflow for Afghan Water Project

Much-anticipated development will irrigate farmland and boost power supplies.
By Safiullah Amiri

Residents of Nimruz have high hopes about the dramatic differences a major dam project will have on life in the semi-arid province.

Now in its third and final phase, the Kamal Khan dam is anticipated to have a massive impact on both agriculture and electricity generation in the southwest of the country.

When complete the dam in Chahar Burjak district will irrigate some 80,000 hectares of land in what is the country’s most sparsely-populated province, as well as generating nine megawatts of electricity.

Nimruz resident Ali Ahmed Mahajer said he was very optimistic now the dam was moving into its final phase, given that swathes of the province had long been uncultivated desert.  

“The construction of Kamal Khan and its operation will provide a lot of facilities for people. Building the dam will help to reduce water shortages in barren and dry areas in the north of the province,” Mahajer said, adding that this would enable thousands more people to make a living through farming.

Although locals believe the dam could transform their fortunes, water has been a persistent source of regional tension.

The Helmand river runs 700 miles from its source in the Hindu Kush mountains to the Iranian-Afghan border, and the dam will disrupt this flow along the way.

According to a bilateral water agreement signed in 1973 under the supervision of then-prime minister Musa Shafiq, Article 5 of the treaty precludes any measures that would cut off the flow of Helmand river to Iran. It also obligates Afghanistan to channel at least 22 cubic metres a second annually to Iran.

Both countries have accused the other of violating the agreement. In 2015, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif complained that “the treaty provisions are being enforced inadequately and inconsistently by the Afghan government”.

But officials from the Afghan ministry of energy and water said that the dam project would not harm Iran’s water supply, and that their country remained committed to supplying 820 million cubic metres of water to their neighbour each year.

Asif Ghafouri, head of the provincial ministry of energy and water, said that by regulating the supply of water, the dam would actually help implement the 1973 agreement.

Taleban attacks have hampered development work in the past, but Nimruz officials said that they believed security was now under control.

Khalid Parwani, spokesman for the Nimruz governor, said that the final stage, which began in April 2017, had been contracted to a Turkish company that had  pledged to complete construction within 42 months, and it was likely that work would be finished even before this deadline.

This third phase involves installing three turbines and a power station as well as digging extensive canals. It is funded by 78 million dollars from the Afghan government's development budget.

Parwani added that security forces had been deployed to the site and he did not anticipate any major threats to derail the project’s progress.

“The security forces are executing their duties according to plan,” agreed Nimruz police chief Ghulam Jilani Abu Bakr. “The reserve units situated in the Char Burjak district are cooperating with the company that runs the construction work of the third phase of Kamal Khan dam, and so far no challenges have been posed to it.”

For now, Nimruz residents eagerly anticipate some dramatic improvements to their lives.

“Kamal Khan is one of the best-known projects in Nimruz province, it will offer and provide a lot of facilities for people,” said local man Ajab Gul. “We want the government to be serious about the construction of this dam so that the people of Nimruz can benefit.”

This report was produced under IWPR’s Supporting Investigative Reporting in Local Media and Strengthening Civil Society across Afghanistan initiative, funded by the British Embassy Kabul.