Fresh Japan Aid for Lake Urmia Recovery

Fresh Japan Aid for Lake Urmia RecoveryFresh Japan Aid for Lake Urmia Recovery

The Japanese government has donated $1 million to help efforts aimed at restoring Lake Urmia in northwestern Iran.

In a ceremony in Tehran on Tuesday, the governments of Iran and Japan as well as the United Nations signed a deal according to which Tokyo will provide financial aid to the tune of $1 million to the UN Development Program office in Iran to help the organization’s efforts to revive the lake as part of its Conservation of Iranian Wetlands Project, Mehr News Agency reported.

The deal will fund the third phase of the joint project. The first phase aimed to reduce water consumption in 41 villages around Lake Urmia, while the second, which came into effect last year, expanded the area to include 75 villages.

It was not immediately clear how many villages are set to be covered during the third phase.

Thanking the Japanese government, Massoumeh Ebtekar, head of Department of Environment, said Tokyo’s help “is proof that environmental issues are not national problems, but global ones.”

She stressed the importance of international cooperation to tackle environmental problems, adding, “Such collaborations send a strong message to the world and help pave the way for world peace.”

  A Scary Problem

Describing Lake Urmia’s condition as a “scary problem”, Gary Lewis, UNDP resident representative in Iran, said, “The lake’s desiccation has environmental, social and health implications.”

Commending the continuous effort to revive Lake Urmia, he said that in addition to reducing water consumption, the joint project to revive the lake aims to reduce the use of pesticides in farms around the lake to prevent the lake’s pollution.

The project has so far managed to reduce water consumption by a third and pesticide use by 40% in the 50,000 hectares of farmlands it has covered.

“In some farms, chemical pesticides aren’t used anymore,” Lewis added.

The Conservation of Iranian Wetlands Project was launched in 2005 as a joint effort between the UNDP and Iran to help revive the country’s drying lagoons. Japan joined in 2014, and has since donated $3 million to help restore Lake Urmia.

The lake’s water level has increased by 67 centimeters since the beginning of the current water year (started September 23, 2015).

In the last Iranian year (ended March 19), major steps were taken to restore the lake, which now barely contains 5% of the water it held less than 20 years ago.

One of the most prominent measures taken by the Urmia Lake Restoration Program was the merger of Zarrinehroud and Siminehroud rivers, whose flow was then directed toward the lake. Shortly after, the reservoir of Boukan Dam was opened, feeding the lake with about 70 cubic meters of water every second.

Furthermore, the government has banned all agricultural development projects in the immediate vicinity of the troubled lake, and is in the process of establishing funds to buy 40% of the water rights of farmers around the lake in West Azarbaijan over five years. So far it has earmarked $60 million for the costly scheme.

The lake has dried up drastically due to a variety of factors, namely construction of a 15 kilometer causeway to shorten the travel time between Urmia and Tabriz as well as construction of several dams that have choked off water supply from the mountains towering either side of the lake.

Lake Urmia’s water level is expected to drop in the summer, as meteorologists predict a summer season between 1 to 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than normal.