This post first appeared on IranVoices.org and is translated into English and published here as part of a content-sharing agreement.
“I promise you if I am elected as the head of the executive branch, I will start working to save Lake Urmia on the first day,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said during his election campaign.
Indeed, the topic of Lake Urmia has become something of a national crisis. This lake is the one of the largest saltwater lakes on Earth located in the country's northwestern corner, close to the Turkish border, between the provinces of East and West Azerbaijan, and parts of northern Kurdistan. Researchers for the Journal of Great Lake Research have stated the lake is on the brink of a major environmental disaster. Urmia's receding shoreline has led to significant shrinkage in the lake's surface area, endangering an entire ecosystem. The video below outlines the severe changes between October 1972 and August 2014.
During his first cabinet meeting in August 2013, Rouhani established a working group to address the crisis. His cabinet's energy minister heads the group, while other members include the agriculture minister, the interior minister, and the Environment Protection Organisation. Other efforts include initiatives by the three provinces involved, Iran's Department of the Environment and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to develop solutions for the government to implement. A meeting held in March of 2014 between these forces resulted in a 11-point action plan involving numerous institutions of Iran's government, including a campaign of national awareness. Other efforts include a 2 million dollar grant by the government of Japan to UNDP Iran to aid the restoration of the lake (the second phase of the grant was renewed this past March).
The most recent remark about the Urmia situation was from the dean for environmental protection in Eastern Azerbaijan, Hamid Ghasemi, who told ISNA news agency: “The average rainfall in the province from the beginning of the month of Mehr (mid-September) was 215.3 mm” [until the end of Esfand, or mid-March], compared to last year's rainfall of 117.1 mm.”
Despite the increase in precipitation, Ghasemi noted that water levels and lake volume had not changed from previous years. Ghasemi emphasized that the way towards “improving the water level situation” lay in increased precipitation alongside the redirecting of water from major dams in the area. He also noted the importance about creating awareness of the lake's conditions among local villages next to the lake, catering the campaigns to the local languages.