0622 GMT May 20, 2019
Lake Urmia, a salt lake, which once had a surface area of 5,000 square kilometers (almost 2,000sq miles) had shrank to just 700sq km in 2013.
The lake has been shrinking since 1995, according to the UN Environment Program, due to a combination of prolonged drought, over-farming and dams.
Experts believe that rising temperatures and reduced rainfall have also been a major factor in the lake's decline, so, too, was the construction of a causeway in 2008 to shorten driving times between Urmia and the nearby city of Tabriz that cut the lake in two.
People were also a major part of the problem due to a rapid rise in the population and farming around the lake, which provides a livelihood to some six million people.
Situated in the mountains of northwest Iran, Lake Urmia is fed by 13 rivers and designated as a site of international importance under the UN Convention on Wetlands that was signed in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971.
Now, Governor Mohammad Mehdi Shahriari says the water keeps rising and the lake is more than half-way through to regain its former size, according to a report by IRNA on April 13.
The Iranian government put Lake Urmia on its agenda in 2013 and with the help of the UN and Japan efforts began to revive the lake.
As Urmia came back from 700 to 2,000sq km, the rains increased in the fall of 2018 and then intensified in March. Now Urmia’s surface is close to 3,000sq km and water level has increased by 59 centimeters or two feet compared with 2013, according to the governor.
In the late 1990s, Lake Urmia, in north-western Iran, was twice as large as Luxembourg and the largest salt-water lake in the Middle East.
Historically, the lake attracted migratory birds including flamingos, pelicans, ducks and egrets. Its drying up is undermining the local food web, especially by destroying one of the world’s largest natural habitats of the brine shrimp Artemia, a hardy species that can tolerate salinity levels of 340 grams per liter, more than eight times saltier than ocean water.
The catastrophe also has threatened the habitat of flamingos, deer and wild sheep and caused salt storms that pollute nearby cities and farms.
Given the far-reaching socio-economic effects, and human health impacts that may extend beyond Iran’s borders, Lake Urmia’s collapse requires active involvement of international organizations that can provide expertise and financial resources, even if their efforts to help are complicated by sanctions blocking financial transactions.