International Waters learning Exchange & Resource Network

Restoration, Protection and Sustainable Use of the Sistan Basin

The Sistan basin stretches across parts of south-western Afghanistan and south-eastern Iran. This inland basin is fed by rivers originating in the Central Highlands of Afghanistan. The basin includes a complex and unique wetlands system consisting of three large shallow lakes and a series of smaller lakes and marshes with extensive reed-beds. The lowest point in the basin, and hence the ultimate destination for waters, is the saline Godzareh depression in Afghanistan. The basin constitutes an excellent example of large, permanent, freshwater wetlands within an extremely arid desert region. The wetlands provide a habitat for diverse and globally significant fauna and flora. They are also vital for sustaining the local economy and for regulating the regional micro-climate. They are also an integral part of the region's unique social and cultural structure.

Throughout the second half of the past century, the amount of water flowing into the Sistan basin has been declining. Over the past five years, a combination of low precipitation, unmanaged water abstractions and political instability have caused the wetlands to go dry. The precise extent of this desiccation is not fully known, but it is thought to possibly cover almost all of three larger lakes and to have lasted for over three years.

The proposed project, as an integral part of a coordinated set of small, medium and large-scale initiatives addressing water management and sustainable development in the basins of the rivers flowing into the Sistan basin, will ensure that the medium and long-term needs of the Sistan ecosystem and of the communities using the lakes are met. The project will do this by establishing a coordinated management mechanism that ensures a regular, sufficient flow of water into the basin. The project will facilitate the development of a Strategic Action Programme (SAP) jointly endorsed by the two countries, and secure the commitment for implementing this Programme. It will also design and support specific measures aimed at restoring and protecting the unique wetlands ecosystem and its biodiversity. Management capacity able to respond to future natural and man-enhanced variations in precipitation will be established in the region.

The overall objective of the GEF support is to ensure that the quantity, and quality, of the water resources of the Sistan Basin meets the short and long-term needs of the ecosystem and of the communities using the ecosystem. The GEF programme will complement and influence the on-going socio-economic processes in south-west Afghanistan and in Sistan/Baluchistan. It will pave the way for a long-term development which maintains the ecosystem in Sistan Basin and protects the regionally and globally significant environment resources in the Basin. It will help create a management system capable of avoiding conflicts and controlling scarcity. This will be achieved through a series of GEF-supported interventions:

  • i)Establish a bilateral coordination mechanism for oversight and management of the Sistan Basin hydrological resources and associated ecosystems;
  • ii)Hold a process of consultation with key stakeholders, including relevant sectoral authorities, regional and local government, local communities and resource users, to determine their concerns, roles and contributions;
  • iii)Prepare a Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA) of the present hydrological and natural resources of the entire Sistan Basin catchment area , the threats and root causes affecting the Basin, based on a thorough scientific understanding of the situation and processes .
  • iv)Develop a Strategic Action Programme (SAP) for the management of the Sistan Basin and its associated ecosystems, owned and agreed upon by national, regional and local authorities and representatives of local people in the two countries.

The SAP will define needed actions, timelines, priorities, partners, and responsibilities for an ecologically sound development of the Sistan Basin. Based on the findings and recommendations of the SAP, a number of interventions will be implemented, such as demonstrations (sand dune stabilzation, erosion reduction, improved water inflow to the lakes etc.).



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Documents & Resources
General information
GEF ID 2130
Project type Full-Size Project
Status cancelled (Cancelled)
Start Date 12 Nov 2008
GEF characteristic:
Focal Area International Waters
GEF Allocation to project 2.10M US$
Total Cost of the project: 12.20M US$
Afghanistan , Iran Islamic Republic of

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Project contacts
Randall Purcell GEF Regional Technical Advisor
Andrew Hudson Head of Water & Ocean Governance