Prolonged and severe drought has taken its toll on the once vital HamounWetlands in southwestern Afghanistan and eastern Iran. Formerly a green oasis for over half a million birds, the wetlands are now a desert tan in this image, acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the Helmand River, which feeds the wetlands, had been running up to 98 percent below its annual average during the past six years of drought. Decades of conflict and poor water management have also contributed to the withering of the wetlands. In 2003, the UNEP reported that 99 percent of the wetlands had dried up. The newly exposed silt is easily picked up on the wind, and dust storms frequently sweep through the Sistan Basin where the wetlands were located. On October 7, 2004, MODIS observed one such storm blanketing much of southern Afghanistan and part of Pakistan with a thick cloud of tan dust.
Straddling the borders of Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, the Hamoun Wetlands had long been an oasis in the otherwise arid landscape of Central Asia. By the turn of the twenty-first century, however, these wetlands were desiccated by irrigation and drought. In mid-May 2008, a dust storm arose from dry lake beds left behind by the once-moist wetlands.