Has Lake Urmia truly reached its final chapter? Or could a miracle save this turquoise gem? There is no way to go back in time; the lake will never be as it once was. Even the most optimistic of experts can’t see a happy ending to the story.
Lake Urmia, situated in northwestern Iran between the provinces of West and East Azerbaijan, was once the largest lake in the Middle East and the sixth largest saltwater lake in the world. Despite being a saltwater lake, it also hosted 212 different species of birds that included flamingos and pelicans, 41 types of reptiles and 27 different mammals across 102 of its islands. UNESCO registers it as a protected site.
However, Iranian authorities have disastrously mismanaged it. First, Martyr Kalantari causeway was built between 1979 and 2008, drastically impeding the flow of water and altering its rate of evaporation, resulting in significant toxic metal deposits. Secondly, permission was granted for the construction of badly designed dams and wells, which syphoned off water that would have normally gone into the lake. Other wells were dug without permission, adding to the problem.
The consequences of this irresponsible and negligent behavior are obvious. Most of the lake has dried up and it’s rapidly on its way to becoming nothing more than a salt desert. The flora and fauna, which once thrived in the area, have mostly died. Jobs, whether in agriculture, gardening or tourism, are also extinct, and millions of people have been forced to emigrate from their ancestral homeland in order to escape salt, salt storms and associated respiratory diseases.
Lake Urmia needs more than a miracle.