For over 5000 years, the Hamoun Wetlands gave life to its surroundings; but as a 19-year drought continues its oppressive reign, the largest sweet water lake in Iran has dried up, with devastating effects. Iranian photographer Hashem Shakeri took to the Sistan and Baluchestan Province to capture the unfolding crisis.
The region, which borders both Afghanistan and Pakistan, was once richly verdant. Measuring at over 5000 square kilometers, the Hamoun provided clean water—its lakes and marshes were home to an abundance of animals, and its surrounding land prosperous from farming. Today, the area is almost as arid as its desert surrounds. Shakeri’s series ‘An Elegy for the Death of Hamun’ stands as a witness to this ecological disaster, illustrating the loss of the wetlands with poignancy. There are no animals thriving in his images, no colored depth to the landscape he has captured. There is only sun-bleached dust, dry wind, and grounded fishing boats.
But the drought that began in 1999 is not the sole reason for the demise of the wetlands, though the volume of water in Sistan has been in steady decline ever since. Inefficient management of water resources, by both Iran and neighboring countries, has taken its toll on the area. Afghanistan, in breach of agreements signed with Iran during the 1970s, constructed numerous dams; including four that block the flow of water from upstream Hirmand (in Afghanistan) to downstream Hirmand, where the river flows into the Hamoun. Such practices coupled with ever-increasing populations and ill-planned irrigation schemes have diverted much-needed water from the wetlands.
Due to a lack of water in the basin, dust storms have become part of daily life. This choking haze of sand and dirt is said to have buried 100 villages, forcing people from their homes. The people whose work was dependent on the water now have no source of income. Today, 25% of the population of Sistan have migrated due to a loss of livelihood, and 95% of those who remain live below the poverty line. This tragedy whistles loudly through the infertile desert that Shakeri has captured. His medium format photographs are washed out; the glow of sunlight and the absence of people both magnified by a process of exposure that captures the arid heat and lethargy of a place with no water. As climate change threatens to displace ever more people, what Shakeri has photographed in Iran is an apocalypse pending.