Officials in Eastern Azarbaijan have issued new warnings about the health risks of living in the province’s Lake Urmia region, where environmental and health experts continue to record dangerous levels of salt particles in the air.
“Research and surveys show that high levels of active salt particles expose inhabitants to threats of acute respiratory disorders,” the chief of Eastern Azerbaijan’s Crisis Management Committee, Khalil Saee, told the press following a policy meeting to discuss the ongoing problem.
Environmental campaigners have long called for authorities to protect Lake Urmia, once the largest lake in the Middle East and home to a wide range of wildlife and bird colonies. It was also once a popular destination because of the lake’s thick mud, which was believed to have restorative properties.
As Nasr News reported, officials met to discuss expert guidance on how the lake might be saved, or at least how the pace of the lake’s desertification might be slowed down.
“The government has approved 26 tasks for reviving the lake, which must be implemented,” said Saee. “Fortunately, as rainfall has increased in the region since last autumn, the policy of ‘no agriculture’ has been abolished. Nevertheless, we must lower our water consumption by eight per cent each year, decreasing it to 40 percent in five years. Eleven towns in Eastern Azerbaijan are dependent on Lake Urmia for water.”
The government-led meeting followed reports in May that increasing numbers of salt storms posed a serious health risk to people living near the lake.
Cases of lung cancer and high blood pressure are on the rise in the region, but the head of the Environmental Health Center, Sheyda Malek Afzali, said the rise could not be attributed solely to the deterioration of Lake Urmia.
The Ministry of Health and Medical Sciences supported this view. A spokesman said that “cardiac and vascular disorders, high blood pressure, and cancers” were among the top five priorities when it came to improving the nation’s health. Neighboring provinces had also recorded more cases of lung cancers and high blood pressure, meaning the salt particles were not necessarily the only contributing factor.
But Environmental Health Center head Afzali told the Iranian Students’ News Agency that, despite other factors, the desiccation of Lake Urmia was a huge environmental and health concern. “It will definitely affect the ecosystem in the region,” he said. “One of the effects will be the continued dispersal of salt crystals through air currents and winds throughout the region.”