International contribution ‘not sufficient’ for Urmia Lake restoration

November 9, 2019

TEHRAN – International contribution to revive Urmia Lake is not sufficient, as only Japan has provided an annual financial assistance amounting to $1 million since the past six years, National Wetlands Conservation Project manager, Ali Arvahi, has said.

“We have so far received 6 million dollars from Japan to restore the valuable lake,” he told IRNA.

The fund is spent on the four pillars of sustainable water and soil management, economic empowerment of national communities, continued management of Urmia Lake's biodiversity, and using restoration experience elsewhere in the country, he explained.

The program is currently being implemented in 150 villages in the Urmia Lake basin, the main goal of which is to elicit people’s participation for the revitalization of Urmia Lake, he noted.

He went on to say that the plan on providing sustainable income for villagers has been implemented in 30 villages in Urmia Lake basin, adding, economic empowerment of farmers, wetland vulnerability assessment systems and online monitoring system, are among other measures to help revitalize the Lake.

By the end of the last year (March 19), more than 35 trillion rials (around $833 million) was spent on restoring the lake; this year, despite the government's economic problems, over 7.2 trillion rials (nearly $166 million) has been allocated in this regard, he stated.

Urmia Lake is projected to reach its ecological level within 10 years within the framework of its headquarters plans started 4 years ago.

All Iranian and foreign experts believe that the participation of local communities along with the implementation of various projects plays an important role in revitalizing the valuable lake.

Shared between West Azarbaijan and East Azarbaijan provinces in northwestern Iran, Urmia Lake, was once the largest salt-water lake in the Middle East. 

However, decades of long-standing drought spells and elevated hot summer temperatures that speed up evaporation as well as increased water demands in the agriculture sector shrank the lake drastically. In 1999 the volume of water which was at 30 billion cubic meters drastically decreased to half a billion cubic meters in 2013. Moreover, the lake’s surface area of 5,000 square kilometers in 1997 shrunk to one-tenth of that to 500 square kilometers in 2013.

The level of water at Urmia Lake has increased by 1 meter in the current water year (began on September 23) compared to the same period last year.

This is a while, deputy environment chief Masoud Tajrishi told Khabaronline in July that rainfall is not the only reason behind Urmia Lake coming back to life. Thus, restoration measures turned out to be effective, unlike the previous years of high rainfall poured over the lake but did not raise the lake level.

The effort put into properly dredging and clearing of weed and vegetation in river beds as a way came efficient in the lake conservation, he added.

FAO takes step forward to assist Iran 

In the line of the Integrated Programme for Sustainable Water Resource Management in the Urmia Lake basin, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in collaboration with Iran’s Atmospheric Science and Meteorological Research Center (ASMERC) held a validation workshop to examine the newly developed Combined Drought Index (CDI) for Urmia Lake basin, according to FAO website.

The workshop convened on 05 November 2019 at ASMERC office in Tehran and was attended by the experts and researchers from FAO, ASMERC, the Ministry of Energy, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Iran Meteorological Organization, the National Drought Center, the Urmia Lake Restoration Program (ULRP), the University of Tehran, Sharif University of Technology and Iran University of Science and Technology. 

The participants were briefed on the rationale, procedures, and methodology employed to develop CDI. They further discussed different potential variables, components, and indices that can be taken into consideration in the following steps to fine-tune the CDI. 

Mr. Gianluca Franceschini, the FAO Senior Land Resource Information Management Expert who co-led the workshop said, “Today, the first results of drought assessment and drought measurement methodology were presented and discussed in detail.” 

He added, “This was the first attempt for the country to provide such information which looks at this phenomenon from different meteorological, agricultural and hydrological dimensions.” 

Praising the efforts made by the National Drought Center, Mr. Rao Matta, the FAO Chief Technical Advisor emphasized, “Drought measurement is an important component for overall basin management in Urmia Lake catchment area and we need to identify what kind of variables need to be incorporated into the CDI.” 

According to Dr. Behdad Chehrenegar, the Head of Hydroinformatics Division of the ULRP, a well-developed CDI assists the Country “to have a vulnerability assessment of the whole Urmia Lake basin to see the effect of the changes in climate variables on the livelihood and socio-economic parameters in the area.” 

“The process we followed in this project not only has the potential to be applicable to different basins of the country but also – as a successful prototype project – to be beneficial for other Middle Eastern countries,” the Head of National Drought Center, Mr. Ahad Vazifeh said.

Funded by the Government of Japan and jointly implemented by FAO and ULRP, Integrated Programme for Sustainable Water Resource Management in the Urmia Lake basin supports the efforts of the Country in improving its institutional and knowledge capacities to restore this unique biosphere reserve. 

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