US PLANES HAVE DAMAGED A hydroelectric plant next to Afghanistan’s largest dam, according to UN sources. A report in the UK newspaper The Independent said that the dam itself does not appear to have been hit, but that the loss of power has incapacitated gate regulating water discharges from the reservoir.

UN officials have warned that if long-awaited rains arrive and the dam’s electric powered gates cannot be opened there is a risk that the reservoir could overflow. This could in turn cause the dam to burst, resulting in what UN officials describe as a ‘disaster of tremendous proportions’. UN sources also fear that further air raids risk destroying the dam.

The 48-year old Kajaki dam on the Helmand river is 91.44m high, 274.32m long, and has a capacity of 1.85M m3. The dam, built by US engineers, is reported to have a generating capacity of 33MW.

Kajaki provides irrigation water to lands supplying food for around a million people, according to the UN. It also provides electricity to around 500,000 people and to several hospitals and industries. The power lines to the city of Kandahar, 96.54km southeast, were rehabilitated by the Taliban earlier this year after being destroyed during the nation’s civil ware. Chinese contractors were adding a further 16.5MW of generating capacity to the dam when the US bombing campaign began.

Kajaki dam has been at the centre of a long-running diplomatic dispute between Afghanistan and Iran which lies downstream of the dam. Iran claims that the diversion of water for irrigation at Kajaki deprives a fertile Iranian farming region of water.