UNEP official names primary causes for Lake Urmia's decline

Business Materials 21 January 2013 10:20

Azerbaijan, Baku, Jan. 21 /Trend S.Isayev/

As the primary causes of the Urmia Lake decline, diversion of inflow rivers and construction of dams, as well as climate changes such as decreased precipitation have been named by the United Nations Environment Program (UNDP).

"Regulating dam construction as well as better monitoring of river diversion is needed," UNEP's chief of Division of Early Warning & Assessment, regional coordinator Ashbindu Singh told Trend.

Singh said that there have been some suggestions of diverting surrounding water bodies to Lake Urmia since the ultimate goal is bring more water into the lake.

"Water bodies that have been suggested for such a project include the Zab River, the Aras River and the Caspian Sea," he said.

"Of course, obstacles in this situation would be cost of the project, feasibility, time it would take to transfer the water, and negotiations with the countries that are home to those water bodies," he added.

According to the official statistics, 70 percent of the water surface of Lake Urmia has been dried up. At present, each liter of water contains 400 grams of salt.

The area of Lake Urmia is about 6000 square kilometers. The lake drying up has an impact on the flora and fauna of the region.

Illegal use of water flowing into the lake for watering by the rural population, construction of dams and illegal objects on its banks, are among the problems contributing to the drying of the lake.

"A study conducted in 2010 reports a range encompassing that figure, stating that anywhere from 2 600MCM to 4 200 MCM would be necessary to maintain the lake. This study also points out that a larger inflow would be needed during the beginning of the recovery phase as opposed to static inflow rates throughout the recovery period," Singh noted.

Speaking of environmental consequences that Iran could face if the lake eventually dries up, Singh noted a few such consequences.

Among the mentioned ones were collapse in the lake's food chain (through the loss of the brine shrimp Artemia urmiana), loss of wetland habitat and the biodiversity loss that implies, alteration of the local climate.

"In areas where the lake dries, it leaves behind salty soil. If the lake were to dry completely it would leave behind a vast salt bed which could not support agriculture and would most likely inhibit natural vegetation growth as well," Singh said.

"The salts could also be susceptible to "salt-storms", much like dust storms, and cause negative health and environmental effects not only in the immediate area of the lake, but also in more distant lands depending on how far the salts were carried," he added.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNDP) has allocated $135 million to Iran to resolve its environmental problems with shoaling at Lake Urmia.

The Iranian government allocated $900 million for this purpose in September 2011.

A project to direct 600 million cubic meters of water from the River Araz into Lake Urmia was launched during a visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and members of the government to Tabriz in 2010.