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Tension is escalating between Iran and Afghanistan over the dwindling supply of an essential resource: water. Recent flare-ups at their shared border highlight a growing conflict over the Helmand river’s flow, with both countries accusing each other of manipulating the water supply. This crisis throws light on a larger global issue – water scarcity.

Source: TRT World/Youtube

Afghanistan’s Taliban government is accused by Tehran of withholding water to boost its reserves, while the Taliban argue that less water is available due to reduced rainfall and lower river levels. A violent clash between the nations’ border guards in May underlines the severity of this dispute, refocusing global attention on the region’s water issues.

This situation could potentially destabilize Iran’s already water-stressed regions, which have witnessed large-scale civil unrest in recent years over water shortages. The water conflict, according to Torbjorn Soltvedt from Verisk Maplecroft, isn’t a minor issue for Iran. It’s already grappling with an economic downturn, anti-government protests, and stringent U.S. sanctions.

The volatile 580-mile border between Afghanistan and Iran poses multiple challenges, ranging from narcotics smuggling to human trafficking. Kamal Alam from the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center labels this border as Iran’s “most vulnerable,” yet it’s a crucial water source.

A treaty signed in 1973, granting Iran 850 million cubic meters of Helmand water annually has never been fully implemented due to political unrest and changes in both countries. Today, the decades-old water dispute has been exacerbated by Climate change and overfarming.

According to Ryan Bohl from Rane, the competition for scarce resources, particularly water, is a traditional driver of conflict. While the Taliban expressed Support for the 1973 treaty, they cite the regional drought as a reason for being unable to meet Iran’s water demands.

The situation is further complicated by economic limitations, preventing both Iran and Afghanistan from investing in infrastructure to address water scarcity. As climate change progresses, such border conflicts and tensions over resources may only increase, serving as a harsh reminder of the critical importance of water conservation efforts.

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