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Iran’s Lake Urmia Drying Up: Tip of an Iceberg of the Country’s Environmental Crisis

Climate change and global warming are international concerns with destructive effects on human lives. While many governments address the environmental crises, Iran’s ruling theocracy accelerates them.  Now Iran’s Lake Urmia, the world’s second-largest salt lake, is steps away from drying up.  

Lake Urmia, one of the most hypersaline lakes and long counted among the world’s largest saltwater lakes, is now a triste shadow of its former self. It is now dubbed as “Urmia Desert.” 

Videos from Iran show salt storms resulting from the drying of Lake Urmia. Coupled with Iran’s high pollution rate, this means more Iranians, particularly in northwest Iran, will suffer.  

With almost 90 miles in length and stretching 34 miles at its widest point, Lake Urmia and its watershed are critical in the lives of millions of people and 226 species of birds and other animals. 

This once-vast lake is situated in Iran’s far northwest and was a one-time holiday haven, but it has now turned into stretches of sunbaked solid mud.   

According to the Nature website, “The Lake Urmia Basin (LUB), with an area of 51,876 km2, hosts agricultural areas for FP and industrial activities. Extensive plains and fertile agricultural farmlands surrounding the lake have made LUB one of the most critical areas for food production and animal husbandry in Iran.” 

With more than a hundred small rocky islands, Urmia Lake is a stopover for migratory birds, including flamingos, pelicans, storks, and ducks. UNESCO has registered it as a protected area. But the regime has not treated this national treasure the way others value their national treasures.  

In the last few years, officials ignored calls by many experts to address the gradual drying of the Lake. Once dried, the expanse of Lake Urmia’s flat salty areas increases, jeopardizing the lives of millions of Iranians. There will be drastic ecosystem changes, and there will be salt and dust storms, as well as extensive soil and water salinization.  

Once Lake Urmia’s water completely vanishes, there will be salt domes and high desertification, negatively impacting Iran’s already damaged agriculture.  

Climate change and global warming indeed play an important role in this tragedy. But what has aggravated this problem is the regime’s inappropriate irrigation practices and extensive anthropogenic pressure, which accelerate the drying process of Lake Urmia.  

The three main factors in the drying up of Lake Urmia are: 

  • Extracting excessively from the renewable resources at the Lake’s basin 
  • Unbalanced development of the agricultural sector 
  • Climate change and global warming  
  • Building dams  

Taking these factors into consideration, climate change and global warming have as little as a 5% share in the drying process of Lake Urmia, which began in the late 1990s, as soon as the Iranian regime’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and its front companies started their destructive projects.  

First, under the pretext of connecting the two provinces of East and West Azerbaijan, the regime constructed a highway, dividing Urmia Lake and seriously damaging its water cycle.  

The contractors and employers of this highway were military companies such as Sadra, Iranian Management Services Company, No Andishan Company, and several others. They are all the IRGC’s subsidiaries or affiliated with government institutions that cooperate with unknown foreign companies. 

Another factor that immensely attributed to the lake’s drying process was the IRGC building unscientific dams and digging thousands of wells around the basin. In September 2015, the state-run Khabar Online acknowledged, “8,800 wells surround Lake Urmia.”  

“Wells are among the important factors that have not spared the aquifers from human intervention. The number of wells has increased to 760,000. More than 46 billion cubic meters of water are extracted from these wells,” Khabar online wrote.  

“Urmia Lake is surrounded by 8,800 wells, which has immensely impacted the flow of rivers in the basin, and has led to a significant decrease in the flow of water entering the lake.”  

“Now there are more than 100,000 wells in the catchment area of Lake Urmia, 50% of which are authorized and 50% unauthorized,” said Farhad Sarkhosh, head of the so-called “project of saving Urmia Lake,” as quoted by official IRNA News Agency on Jan 6, 2019.  

Another factor that has caused Lake Urmia to dry is the IRGC’s Khatam-ol Anbiya Head Quarters building dams.  

According to the state-run Hamshahri daily in September 2014, “Until 2012, more than 200 dams on the rivers of the lake’s catchment area were ready for operation, or at the end of the design stages.”  

“Dam construction is another important factor in the drying up of Lake Urmia. A dam should be built where the river water is flowing and active. The dam prevents rainfall from reaching the lake,” the semi-official ISNA News Agency admitted in September 2015.  

Dam construction is one of the macro-economic projects that generate stable wealth, as the IRGC’s Khatam HQ gets the lucrative projects and is constantly funded to take care of these dams. Besides, the IRGC uses water in other industries it has dominated, such as steel and petrochemical.  

The regime could have saved this national treasure by transferring water to it or at least stopped digging wells, but it didn’t. The government of Hassan Rouhani made a fanfare about taking care of Lake Urmia, but it did nothing.  

The sad fate of Lake Urmia is part of a bigger tragedy in Iran under the mullahs’ regime: A wealthy country that has been drained of its resources by the ruling theocracy that prioritizes preserving its ominous rule above people’s well-being.  

Therefore, Iranians wrote on the dried basin of Lake Urmia: “We will avenge you! Even if it costs us our lives.”