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God, Gas and Heroin. Now, the Fight’s Over Water



Photo of afghan people on a mountainside
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ZARANJ, Afghanistan — Men across this windblown, lawless desert have fought over opium, God and gasoline, but now, Said Mohammed, a wheat farmer with a shovel and a rifle, senses a war brewing over water.
The conflict runs along the dangerous border between Afghanistan and Iran, where the Helmand River winds like an existential thread through two troubled lands. The nearly complete Kamal Khan dam would provide Afghan farmers with steady irrigation flows in dry seasons. But Iran, claiming the dam may significantly reduce its downriver water supply, is seeking to undermine the project.
“There just isn’t enough all year around,” said Mohammed, digging in his soil. “This year, we were told that the new dam would be finished and it would regulate our water supply through irrigation canals. But our neighbor [Iran] is stronger and might prevent it. They are already stealing our water. We’re fighting a water war, and we have little hope.”
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