People, Environment

Failure to Restore Urmia Lake Will Endanger 14m Lives

Urmia Lake will most likely fail to achieve an ecological balance by 2023.Urmia Lake will most likely fail to achieve an ecological balance by 2023.

If the Urmia Lake Restoration Project fails to achieve an ecological balance by 2030, it will endanger the lives of 14 million people, the director of West Azarbaijan Disaster Mitigation and Management Organization said.

Experts had originally targeted 2023 as the year in which the lake would achieve ecological balance, but the target will most likely be missed due to poor funding.

Amir Abbas Jafari added that the Urmia Lake's restoration can only be delayed until 2030, ILNA reported.

"Around 14 million people will be at risk, if the project to restore the lake fails," he said.

Although the provincial office of Department of Environment had claimed that efforts to restore Urmia Lake are proceeding as scheduled, Urmia Lake will most likely fail to achieve an ecological balance by 2023 due to the drying up of funds.

According to Isa Kalantari, the head of ULRP, the implementation of key projects has become difficult because the earmarked funds have not been made available.

Located between the provinces of East and West Azarbaijan, Urmia Lake has been facing serious drought for years. Its depletion is due to climate change, the long dry spell, unrestrained damming and excessive water use, especially in the agriculture sector.

In addition to Iran’s perennial battle with drought, the lake has dried up drastically due to a host of other factors, including the construction of a 15-kilometer causeway to shorten the travel time between Urmia and Tabriz cities, as well as the construction of several dams that have choked off water supply from the mountains towering on either side of the lake.

ULRP officials say they will at best be able to maintain the current stable condition of the lake over the next year but the project might fail to meet the 2023 deadline on turning the lake back to its normal ecological condition.

Ecological balance is defined by researchers as a state of dynamic equilibrium within a community of organisms in which genetic, species and ecosystem diversity remains relatively stable, subject to gradual changes through natural succession.

Set up in 2013 shortly after President Hassan Rouhani took office, the ULRP set out to stabilize the lake's water level (Phase 1) before embarking on the more challenging task of restoring its water level to what it was more than a decade ago (Phase 2).

The first phase was completed in September and the second phase started shortly after, with the initial goal of increasing the water level by 40 centimeters in a year.  The target is to restore the ecological level (1,274 meters above sea level) within 10 years.

In September 2016, a memorandum of understanding was signed by Iran, Japan and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to help revive the imperiled lake in northwestern Iran, with Tokyo pledging to provide $3.8 million for restoration efforts over the next four years.

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