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May-June 2011

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Afghanistan's Helmand Province—The Essence of Austerity

You perhaps have heard enough to realize that Sistan is one of the most unattractive, the most inhospitable, I had almost said the most odious of places in the world. It is a country of marshes and swamps, of sands and solitudes, of extreme heat and extreme cold, famous for a wind, the most vile and abominable in the universe, presenting at all seasons of the year dangers to life which can scarcely be realized by those who only read of them at a distance, but the actual effect of which can be tested by the lamentable figures of mortality.

These words, written by Lord Curzon of Kedleston, appeared in the Geographical Journal of Great Britain, number 28, published in 1906. He describes the Sistan basin region of the lower Helmand River Valley, a region that straddles Iran and Afghanistan, 60 percent of which lies in the Helmand Province, and which floodwaters inundate creating marshes and lagoons, known locally as Hamun. While the Sistan is but a part of the modern Afghan province of Helmand, the largest in the country, Lord Curzon's words accurately describe the climatological austerity of the entire region.

ED DARACK is an independent writer and photographer. Visit his Web site at

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