Japanese Grant gives hope for Recovery in Lake Urmia

New Japanese grant gives hope for sustained recovery in Lake Urmia

Water – albeit thinly spread – is now covering a significant amount of the lake’s formerly dried-out surface.

Much more than it was two years – or even one year – ago.  And while the lake’s biosphere is still in critical condition, there have been sustained and relentless improvements in recent months to re-fill the lake.  As a result, the destiny of the world’s once-second-largest saltwater body is much brighter than at any time in the past decade.

Situated in North West of Iran, Lake Urmia  is part of a unique biodiversity rich ecosystem of also freshwater wetlands and rivers that are essential to the livelihoods of more than 5 million people living in the basin.  This Ramsar Site – which is also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a National Park – had been shrinking at an alarming rate.

Three years ago the lake contained only 0.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) of water – down from the massive 30 bcm it used to contain when full.  In terms of surface area covered, the lake’s 5000 square kilometer surface had dwindled to 500 km2 in 2013.  Now it is back to 2,300 km2  – although much of this water is very thinly spread.

The reversal is due to the combined efforts of multiple actors at local, national and international level.  The prospects for a restoration are now stronger than anytime since the lake started to be emptied – 20 years ago – as a result of intense dam construction and the diversion of water for agriculture.

The reasons for the replenishment are threefold: first the deliberate release of water from dams.  Second, the canal drainage to un-silt the feeder rivers.  Third, better water management among the farming communities nestled in the Lake Urmia basin.  It is this latter effort which is likely to be the most impactful in the long run.  And this is where the combination of local, national and international efforts has been concentrated.

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