Drought in Sistan and Baluchestan Could Cause Mass Migration

Severe drought will soon force more than half a million people in the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan to migrate to other parts of the country, says Mohammad Naeim Aminifard, the representative from Iranshahr to the Majlis (Iranian Parliament.)

“People in Sistan and Baluchestan have lost everything, and have nowhere to go. Most people in the province are farmers, but the drought has destroyed their livelihood,” Mr. Aminifard said. 

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Sistan and Baluchestan is the second largest province in Iran, bordering with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Its majority Sunni inhabitants are among the most economically disadvantaged segment of the Iranian population. The region has been struggling with severe water shortage for the past 18 years; the problem has reached a critical level now.

The region has experienced record low rainfall for the past two years. Since the start of the 2017-2018 agricultural calendar, only 29 millimeters of rain has fallen in Sistan and Baluchestan, according to the province’s meteorological research center. The region needs at least three times that to survive, but that is highly unlikely if the current weather patterns continue. Local farmers have had to endure 200 consecutive dry days in the past year. 

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More than 13 towns in Sistan and Baluchestan have been experiencing severe water shortage. Out of a total of 613 wells which serve the inhabitants of the province, 143 have normal water levels with another 178 yielding half their usual capacity, and the rest have completely dried up. The province’s reservoir has also dropped to a critical level. Sistan and Baluchestan’s Department of Water and Sewerage announced in July that it planned to supply 1,000 liters of water every second to the residents, which is less than half of what the population needs.

More than 50 percent of the inhabitants of Sistan and Baluchestan live in rural areas. Many of them have been forced to flee their homes and migrate to neighboring provinces and other parts of the country. The conditions in the province worsened after Afghanistan restricted the flow of the Helmand River, which is the primary watershed for the Sistan Basin, thereby depriving the region of its rightful share of the water. 

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Speaking at an open session of the Majlis, Habibollah Dahmardeh, a representative from Zabol to the Majlis, said: “Farmers in the province rely heavily on the Helmand River for their water supply. Afghanistan has built dams and canal locks in the past two decades which have significantly reduced Iran’s share of the water.”

“Half a million of the inhabitants of the province are farmers who will most likely leave and go somewhere else,” Mr. Dahmardeh noted. “Many people in Sistan and Baluchestan have lost everything. They have no idea what they’ll do or where they’ll go. There are no factories or industries of any kind in the province. The government has to step in and rescue the people.”

According to the Helmand-River Water Treaty, Iran is entitled to one billion cubic meters of water a year from the river. Sistan and Baluchestan has only received two percent of its rightful share of the water this year. Afghanistan has claimed that its reservoir doesn’t meet its domestic needs, and used this as an excuse to deny Iran 98 percent of its share of the water.

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Sistan and Baluchestan is not the only province that has been hit by severe drought. More than 10 percent of the 4.7 million people living in the southern province of Khuzestan have moved to northern regions of the country in recent years, says Parvaneh Salahshouri, a representative from Tehran, Shemiranat, Ray, and Iranshahr to the Majlis. Khuzestan has been experiencing severe water shortage in recent years. Unemployment and the high cost of living have forced many people into poverty.

Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi