Lake Hamun and the end of the world

According to Zoroastrian mythology, Lake Hamun was the keeper of Zoroaster’s seed. When the world’s end is at hand, three maidens will enter the lake, and afterwards will give birth to the Saoshyants who will then be the “final saviors” of mankind.

A watery Lake Hamun. Image from

Right now, the lake is best known for surrounding the legendary Mount Khwaju: like a sample of the world – with the land of the mountain surrounded by the water of the lake.

But the future of the lake is increasingly challenged.

Even though the region is tormented  – and blessed – by the legendarily fierce wind of 120 days, it used to be known as the breadbasket of the Khorasan. The land hereabouts is fertile – if it can be watered.

The river Hirman and Lake Hamun is not only the main source of irrigation in Sistan, but also provided many water-associated economic activities – hunting in the Neyzar(reed forest), ferrying goods and passengers across the lake, fishing and reed-associated handicrafts. In the past, it had “a pivotal role in the living of the population of this southern edge of Central Asia”.

The dry Lake Hamun. ISNA Image via Tudelft hydropolitics weblog

The lake, even in recent times, used to be much larger. G.P. Tate described the lake at the turn of the twentieth century as covering something like 150,000 square miles (388,500 sq km). Now what was a large lake is merely a dustbowl

With the diminishing body of the lake and the Neyzar, all the economic activities are threatened, while the declining agricultural life of the province has: “forced thousands of the local population to migrate from Sistan to Gorgan and other areas near the borders with Turkmenistan”.

As Hojjat Mian Abadi has detailed, the changes are largely due to political events. Problems started with General F. Goldsmid, the British boundary arbitration officer, who decided in 1872 to put the Iran-Afghanistan boundary in Sistan on the main branch of the Hirmand in the delta region, but failed to make any arrangement or recommendation for water division between the two sides. This was despite Iranian Sistan being much more fertile and populous than the corresponding Afghan border district of Nimrouz.

Various subsequent poorly thought out and contradictory memoranda and treaties havent helped. Nor has the lack of any control in war-torn Afghanistan.

The world’s end is already at hand here but, with no lake, no maidens will be able to give birth to the final saviours of mankind.


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