Bringing an Iranian oasis back from the dead

Sun-bleached skiffs lie in a jumble along the barren southern shore of Hamoun-e Puzak, a former lake. In the afternoon heat, Fata Morgana cliffs shimmer on the horizon. The boats aren’t much use these days. Hamoun-e Puzak and two sister lakes are now seas of sand, and the marshes they supported have withered away.

“People would fish here. Children would swim here. No more,” says Nayyereh Pourmollae, who heads the environment department of Sistan and Baluchestan province in southeastern Iran. The Hamoun wetlands, which once encompassed as much as 5800 square kilometers along Iran’s border with Afghanistan and supported settlements stretching back 5 millennia, “are an ecological catastrophe,” she says. On the Iranian side, villages are emptying. Winds in what has become a dust bowl ravage crops and sweep up pesticide residues and other pollutants. And a haven for migratory birds and other wildlife is vanishing.

But now, after years of bickering about which country is to blame, Iran and Afghanistan are discussing solutions.

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