Iran’s Tarnished Gem


Revered by ethnic Azeris as “the turquoise solitaire of Azerbaijan,” Lake Urmia used to be 2d handiest to the Caspian Sea as the greatest saltwater lake in the Heart East, a haven for birds and bathers. For the reason that early Seventies nature and humanity maintain chipped away at this gem tucked in northwestern Iran, cutting back its dimension by about eighty p.c over the past 30 years. The flamingos that feasted on brine shrimp on this UNESCO biosphere reserve are mostly long past. So are the pelicans, the egrets, and the geese. Even the vacationers who flocked to Lake Urmia for therapeutic baths in its heat, hypersaline waters are staying away.

What remain are piers that lead nowhere, the rusting carcasses of ships 1/2-buried in the silt, and white, barren landscapes of uncovered salt apartments. Winds that whip across the lake mattress blow salt dust to farm fields, slowly rendering the soil infertile. Spoiled, salt-tinged dust storms nettle the eyes, skin, and lungs of oldsters as far-off as Tabriz, a city of more than 1.5 million about 60 miles away. And nowadays Urmia’s alluring turquoise waters were stained blood-red from algae and micro organism that flourish in these waters, that are eight occasions as salty as the ocean, and then turn color when daylight penetrates the shallows.

What’s took save to this cherished lake? Climate alternate has intensified droughts and elevated hot summer season temperatures that scuttle up evaporation, scientists teach. But that’s handiest part of the story: Engineers and water experts point out that the lake on this semiarid jam is tormented by 1000’s of unlawful wells and a proliferation of dams and irrigation initiatives which will be diverting water from tributary rivers to grow apples, wheat, and sunflowers. The experts maintain known as on Iran’s executive to alternate direction before Urmia “falls victim to the Aral Sea syndrome,” the overexploitation of water that doomed its sister inland sea in Central Asia.

The speak of science seems to maintain reached Tehran. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has pledged to utilize 5 billion dollars to revive Urmia by releasing more water from dams, bettering the efficiency of irrigation systems, and switching to much less thirsty vegetation. But some promised funding appears to be like to maintain dried up too, thwarting growth and bringing petitions to Iran’s supreme chief, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to resume efforts or to query world assistance. The United International locations Pattern Programme is working with farmers on more sustainable practices to keep water. Even supposing U.S.-Iran kin maintain been strained for many years, the international locations maintain accredited scientific exchanges to brainstorm on the style to contain up the diminishing waters of Lake Urmia and Utah’s Monumental Salt Lake—that are shut in dimension and configuration.

At a gathering in 2016 backed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medication in Irvine, California, U.S. and Iranian scientists shared strikingly identical stories about how Iran and the western United States maintain struggled with multiyear droughts and the demands of their rising populations and agriculture. It’s easy for public officers to fearful remote from accountability by blaming a altering local climate or the whims of climate. University of California, Irvine, engineering professor Amir AghaKouchak, who used to be born and professional in Iran before immigrating to California, mentioned each regions maintain suffered intensive droughts up to now. The adaptation comes when human demands exceed accessible, renewable water. “If the identical drought happens in the extinguish,” he mentioned, “this would possibly well maintain indispensable more excessive impacts.”

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