Helmand River

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Major river system in Afghanistan.

The Helmand River originates in the high mountains of the Hindu Kush range in central Afghanistan and flows to the Hamun-e Helmand (Lake Helmand) in Iran. The longest river in Afghanistan (more than 2,000 miles), the Helmand River drains 40 percent of the Afghan watershed. In the 1940s and 1950s, the Helmand Valley Project was initiated as a cooperative venture between the United States and Afghanistan. A series of dams and canals was constructed to irrigate the arid Helmand valley. Despite problems of salination and poor drainage in some areas, as well as massive corruption, the project produced beneficial effects, since thousands of farmers were relocated from other areas of Afghanistan and given land in this area.

Since 1979, war and drought have had an impact on the Helmand River. The drought that lasted from 1997 through 2002 dramatically reduced stream flow and led to increased desertification in much of the Helmand basin. Twenty years of war diverted attention and manpower, so canals and equipment vital to maintaining the irrigation were not maintained. In addition, with no governmental control, the cultivation of opium poppies replaced many of the traditional crops and has led to warlordism and lawlessness.

See also afghanistan.


Dupree, Louis. Afghanistan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980.

Rubin, Barnett R. The Fragmentation of Afghanistan: State Formation and Collapse in the International System. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

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