Desiccation of the Transboundary Hamun Lakes: Natural or Anthropogenic?

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Mahdi Akbari, Ali Mirchi, Amin Roozbahani, Abror Gafurov, Björn Klöve , Ali Torabi Haghighi 


This paper investigates the hydrologic and water management reasons behind the desiccation of the Hamun Lakes in the Iran-Afghanistan border region. We analysed changes in Hirmand (or Helmand) River flow, the main tributary providing 70% of the lakes’ total inflow, and precipitation during 1960-2016 by calculating standardized indices for precipitation (SPI) and discharge (SDI). Also, we applied Normalized Difference Spectral Indices (NDSIs) using satellite images from 1987 to present to observe monthly areal change of the lakes. The transboundary water body is responding to changes in regional water management, which has severely reduced the lakes’ inflow. Upstream water regulation in Afghanistan coupled with reservoir construction on the Iranian side has caused nearly full desiccation of major parts of the lake system. There is a discernible shift in the relation between the Hirmand River flow at the international border and upstream precipitation over the lakes’ basin before and after 2004. From 1960 to 2003, high river flows were expected to feed the lakes due to high precipitation over the basin. However, the Hirmand River flow at the border declined after 2004 despite large amounts of upstream precipitation, including the largest recorded amounts, especially in the Hindu Kush mountains. Further, environmental water stress caused by anthropocentric water management in Iran by reservoir construction has impacted the area of the lakes. Although a long period of drought from 1998-2004, i.e. climatic driver, decreased the lakes’ area, the lake system is primarily falling victim to anthropogenic flow alterations in the transboundary river basin. The lakes’ shrinkage places socio-economic stress on an already-vulnerable region with important public health implications as the exposed lake beds turn into major sources of sand and dust storms.



Engineering, Life Sciences


Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI), Standardized Discharge Index (SDI), Normalized Difference Spectral Indices (NDSIs), Lake Desiccation, Iran-Afghanistan Border Region


Published: 2021-10-13 17:21

Last Updated: 2021-10-14 00:21


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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Conflict of interest statement:
Authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Data Availability (Reason not available):
Available by asking from corresponding author.

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