Drawing Attention to the Destruction of Lake Urmia (Iran and Southern Azerbaijan)

Social media sites are very powerful, they can highlight and draw attention to issues and the plight of peoples that would not necessarily be reported elsewhere.  For example, one of Everything Dinosaur’s many friends on the company’s Facebook page sent pictures and information about the crisis taking place in a region of the Middle East surrounding Lake Urmia, which is rapidly drying up and disappearing.

Lake Urmia

Lake Urmia, which is situated in northern Iran, close to the border of Azerbaijan was once regarded as the largest salt lake in the Middle East, however, its waters have been receding, threatening the livelihoods of the local population as well as the many millions of people in the surrounding area who depend on the Lake and its rivers for water.  The loss of such a habitat also has extremely grave consequences for the natural world. 

Water levels have been dropping for many years, but the loss of water has really become accelerated over the last two decades or so.  A number of reasons have been given for this decline.  Something like thirty-nine dams are planned or have been built on the rivers flowing into the Lake Urmia.  The digging of thousands of wells for use in local industry or agriculture has depleted the water levels in the Urmia basin and a series of prolonged droughts has led to very little precipitation.

Trying to Save the Lake

The Iranian Government, with the support of a number of international organisations including the United Nations, is trying to save the lake, which once was regarded as the third largest salt water lake on Earth.  Many experts on the environment say that what has been done so far and what steps are planned to take place in the near future will not be enough to save the flora and fauna of the region.

A project to divert over 600 million cubic metres of water from the Araz river into Lake Urmia was launched in 2010, this project, estimated to be costing approximately $1.2 billion USD may not be sufficient to counterbalance the loss of water.

A further $900 million USD was set aside by the Iranian Government to help in the Lake Urmia crisis the following year, although some informed commentators have questioned whether such sums have really been allocated to address the increasing problems in the Lake Urmia region.  It is believed that in  addition to other funding, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has allocated $135 million USD to help resolve environmental problems caused by the reduction in water volume.

76 Million People Affected

It has been estimated that something around 76 million people live within 250 miles of the Lake’s basin, the drying up of this water resource could have devastating implications for the entire region.  The area is an exceptionally important wetland habitat, but as the water disappears what liquid that is left is becoming increasingly salty.  If the water goes altogether a huge salt pan would remain containing an estimated 8 billion tonnes of salt.  Winds could then transport and redeposit this salt over a wide area.  Scientists estimate that salt-toxicity could become a hazard in agricultural landscapes many hundreds of miles away from the Lake.  Farmland in Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Armenia and Azerbaijan could be seriously affected.

Let us hope that the Iranian Government working in collaboration with environmental groups, the administrations of neighbouring countries and international bodies such as the United Nations are able to adopt effective solutions that can lead to the aversion of this potential environmental crisis.

Our thanks to Amin for his help in putting together this article.