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Respond to People's Needs or be Condemned: MPs Call Out Against Channeling of Caspian Water to Ahmadinejad's Birth-Region

By Kaveh Ghoreishi, Rooz Online

The criticism over the transfer of water from the Caspian Lake to the province of Semnan as a measure to save the drying-up of the Orumieh Lake brought about harsh remarks by Majlis members from West Azerbaijan province. The plan to help Orumieh Lake through such a water diversion was raised two years ago but has again made headlines in Iran even as environmentalists believe the project is “unscientific and impractical” with little economic value.

Photos: Water transfer project from Caspian Sea to central Iran started

Some MPs, including the one from Orumieh, asked Ahmadinejad, “Why instead of reviving Orumieh are we spending money to transfer money from the Caspian to the desert? Is this a good way to spend public money? It is possible to transfer money from the Central Province to Isfahan but not Orumieh.” MP Salman Zaker even went further and issued a warning to the government: “Orumieh Lake is the heart of Azerbaijan. I say this because I care that the drying up of Orumieh Lake will have dangerous consequences. Respond to the cries of the great people of Azerbaijan or be condemned by them.”

Ahmadinejad Inaugurates the Project

This issue began when the minister of power unexpectedly announced on April 16 that the project to transfer water from the Caspian to the province of Semnan would begin soon. Mohammad-Reza Attarzadeh, the deputy minister of power on water issues told IRNA state run news agency that according to the plan fresh water would be transferred to three parts of central Iran from the Caspian Lake, the first part of which is from Sari the capital of Mazandaran province has begun and it would transfer water to the towns of Semnan, Qom, Kashan and Isfahan.

The Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water on Earth by area, variously classed as the world's largest lake or a full-fledged sea. The sea has a surface area of 371,000 km2 and a volume of 78,200 km3. It is in an endorheic basin (it has no outflows) and is bounded to the north by Russia, to the south by Iran, western Azerbaijan, and eastern Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

The next day, other news agencies provided more details of this project which was launched in the presence of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. According to the ISNA student news agency the first part of this massive project is to search for a precise location through which water will be going through to end up in the middle regions of Iran. This phase also includes a desalination plant and the laying of pipelines, taking into account environmental issues. The other phases include electricity generation, several other desalination units, pumping stations, and pipelines.

On April 18, the president of Iran’s chamber of commerce Ali-Asqar Jomei applauded the project and called for its immediate execution proclaiming that the endeavor would result in industrialization in the province of Semnan.

Majlis Deputy: Will Not Allow Orumieh Lake to Dry-up

But in the three days since the announcement, a wave of protests and objections to the plan have been aired from all quarters, politicians and technical specialists. Majlis deputies took advantage of the issue and raised the problem of Orumieh Lake which is drying up. Ali-Akbar Aghai, the representative from Salmas objected to the project charging that the ministry of power had not undertaken any studies on the project and had no specific plans for it, while the ministry had claimed that the ministry of oil had done the feasibility study.

Soleiman Zaker, the MP from Orumieh had some harsh words for the government and accused it of in fact disregarding the issue of the drying up of Orumieh Lake. He called on his colleagues in the Majlis to allocate funds for supplying water to the lake indicating that the government had allocated some 2,500 billion for Isfahan but disregarding the problems of Orumieh Lake in Orumieh province. The outgoing member of parliament warned that even though he was not elected for the next Majlis, he would “not allow this lake to dry-up.”

Lake Urmia (Oroumieh) is a salt lake in northwestern Iran near Turkey. The lake is between the provinces of East Azarbaijan and West Azarbaijan, west of the southern portion of the similarly shaped Caspian Sea. It is the largest lake inside Iran, and the third salt water lake on earth, with a surface area of approximately 5,200 km square (2,000 mile square).

Legal and Practical Issues

In addition to the political wrangling over the project at the Majlis and within the government, the project has been publicly criticized on technical grounds as well, which has caused its implementation to be suspended. In fact the criticism has been so widespread that the project may be killed completely and removed from the government’s goals.

Sabz Press, Iran’s environmental news agency, has charged that the project is “impractical and unscientific” with little economic benefits. Environmentalists have argued that the costs of transferring water to distant regions entails very high costs to maintain the quality of the water. They have advocated spending the project’s money on improving the irrigation projects around the country, which would produce much better effects while improving the environmental qualities of the region as well.

Jame Jam website also criticized the project and raised a different issue. It said that since the Caspian Lake is shared by 5 littoral states, channeling water out of it could create legal problems with these countries bordering the lake.

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