Farmers Unaffected by Urmia Lake Restoration

Crop output of farms in Urmia Lake’s catchment area is up 18%, although less water was used than before
Measures to replenish the lake are gradually paying off. (Photo: Ebrahim Norouzi)Measures to replenish the lake are gradually paying off. (Photo: Ebrahim Norouzi)
Allowing Urmia Lake to go completely dry will cost the country more than a trillion dollars

Thanks to the careful planning that has gone toward reviving Urmia Lake, farmers around the water body did not have to change their livelihoods and seek alternative sources of income.

The Urmia Lake Restoration Program, which was launched in 2013 by President Hassan Rouhani and is headed by former agriculture minister, Isa Kalantari, has been actively cooperating with Iranian and international experts to replenish Urmia Lake, which now only contains 5% of the water it held 20 years ago.

One of the key measures of the ULRP is reducing water consumption of farmlands in the lake’s catchment area, which initially caused concern among many that it would impact the livelihood of farmers by affecting their crop output.

“If anything, the farmers are now producing more crops than before,” Kalantari told reporters on Tuesday in Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology following the signing of a memorandum of understanding by Iran, Japan and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to help revive the imperiled lake in northwestern Iran.

Farmers have been tapping into the waters of Zarrinehroud, a key tributary of the lake, for years, but the ULRP has reduced the farmer’s share of the river’s water by 16%.

“Our analyses show that most farms are producing about 18% more crops than they did before,” said Kalantari, who is also a senior advisor to First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri on environmental affairs.

By installing modern irrigation systems in farms and teaching farmers how to efficiently water their crops, the ULRP has managed to not only increase the inflow of water into the lake, but also help increase crop production.

“Nevertheless, should we see a drop in crop output in a region, we’re going to help those affected find alternative means of revenue,” he said.

  FAO to the Rescue

The trilateral MoU is an effort by FAO and the government of Japan to help revive Urmia Lake by providing technical and financial support to restoration efforts.

The lake’s drastic water loss is attributed to climate change, drought, unrestrained damming and excessive water use, especially in the agriculture sector.

The MoU’s main goals are to help develop a system that manages water use around the lake, formulate ways to combat drought in the area based on the region’s climate and risk factors, and devise alternative sources of income should there be a need for them.

Japan has agreed to fund the scheme for the next four years, pledging to provide $3.8 million in the next four years, which is unprecedented, according to Japan’s Ambassador in Tehran Hiroyasu Kobayashi.

“Japan’s financial aid to projects such as this is normally renewed annually, but Tokyo has made an exception and pledged to fund the scheme for four years,” the diplomat said.

Kobayashi stressed that Japan is committed to helping Iran overcome its environmental problems and reviving Urmia Lake is a major issue that must be addressed.

“It doesn’t matter who will hold my post in Iran in the future; the Japanese government’s cooperation with Iran will continue,” he added.

Kalantari also emphasized that Iran has no choice but to restore the lake.

“Every future government has a duty to revive Urmia Lake, because while restoring it costs around $8 billion, allowing it to go completely dry will cost more than a trillion dollars because we’ll have to relocate people in Tabriz and Urmia, which is simply not feasible,” he said.