Source: Tehran Times
TEHRAN - Actor Reza Kianian presented the "I'm Lake Urmia" petition, signed by around 1.7 million Iranians, to the UN resident coordinator in Iran Gary Lewis, here on Monday.
"I'm Lake Urmia" hashtag is a campaign initiated in late August by Mohammad Khazaei, an environmentalist, and later taken up and supported by Kianian. It is aimed to push the United Nations to take serious measures to restore the lake.
Lake Urmia in northwestern Iran was once the largest lake in the Middle East and the sixth-largest saltwater lake on Earth with a surface area of approximately 5,200 square kilometers. The lake has shrunk to 10 percent of its former size mostly due to damming of the rivers that flow into it and pumping of groundwater from the area.
Periods of drought, a lack of awareness among the public, a lack of coordination among the countries in the region, and flawed policies have all contributed to the Lake Urmia dryness, Kianian wrote in his letter attached to the petition to UN Chief Ban Ki-moon.
Constructing numerous dams, unsustainable agriculture and industries, and water transferring projects have also intensified the pressure on the lake, Kianian added.
At the end of the letter Kianian urged the UN to help Iran save the lake with technical, scientific, and financial supports.
Lewis, for his part, explained how impressed he was by the Iranian public personalities and representatives of the media as it is very important to drive public attention to Iran's environmental crises.
"In addition to what Mr. Kianian said [about Iran's environmental status] there are more reasons to worry," Lewis said, adding, "dramatic population growth in Iran over the last 30 years has increased the pressure on the resources more specifically water resources in the country and has made it difficult for us to have sustainable water policies."
"According to government figures in recent years across 70 underground water catchment areas the level of groundwater has dropped by two meters," the UN official regretted, explaining "There is a phenomenon called competitive deepening which means that as the water drops you keep drilling more and more to get access to the water."
'Iran close to hit water scarcity'
"In 1956 we had about 7,000 cubic meters of water available per person in Iran (per annum)," he said, "10 years ago that amount had dropped to 1,900 cubic meters per person per year, and we are right now having about 1,200 cubic meters per person per year."
He went on to warn that "when we hit 1,000 we will hit water scarcity and we are very very close to that level now."
The average per capita use of water in Iran is 70 percent higher than the global average, Lewis noted, "which means that even though we are living in a semi-arid region we are not consuming water efficiently, [and] we are wasting water unsustainably."
Climate change adds insult to the injury
"Everything I just described is how we are using and managing water, I haven't even started to talk on the impacts of the climate change which will make the availability of water in this country scarcer because it's getting hotter and drier," he pointed out.
The average temperature in Iran has already risen by 1.7 degrees compared to the historical average, he added.
Lake Urmia is seriously in trouble
He further gave an account of his trip to Lake Urmia were he saw the gravity of the issue and explained how the remaining salt in the lake can be detrimental to both the environment and five million people living in the lake basin.
He further explained that in order to get the water to the agricultural fields that are at the side of the lake the farmers have to drill the wells deeper and deeper and the deeper they go they reach salt water and therefore they irrigate their farmland with salt water and make the land salinized.
What needs to be done and what is being done
Iran's government, the UN, the Japanese, and the provincial government of West and East Azarbaijan are all trying [to solve the problem], he highlighted.
The UN has two agencies that are working on Lake Urmia; one is United Nations Development Program (UNDP) that has been there for 10 years and the other one is Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) which has just started to work, Lewis noted.
UNDP in particular is working with communities at the lake basin to develop sustainable agricultural crop management, he said, "we are working with 75 villages covering about 50,000 hectares of agricultural lands which only represents 10 percent of the lands in the lake basin and what we have been able to demonstrate in the past two years is that the techniques we have applied can save one third of the water."
The government itself has also been engaged in doing engineering works in the basin that allows more water to flow into the lake as well, the UN coordinator said.
Recently the water level of the lake has increased, he mentioned, stating "I honestly don't know but maybe the combination of those two things may have contributed to that and we will only be able to know that in 5 to 6 years if the water continues to rise gradually."
"The problem is that what we are doing is still small," he lamented, saying, but the UN's role is not to replace the work of the government but it is to show them a pilot technique and then it's up to the communities, the provincial government, and the national government to upscale those techniques so that not just 10 percent but 100 percent of the basin can benefit from these [water-efficient] agricultural techniques.
What the UN is doing is to give technical support as well as giving visibility to all of these problems through social media, in particular.
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