Fate of Dying Lake Sparks Clashes in NW Iran

lake urmia iran euronews screenshot photo

Growing salt deposits on Lake Urmia. Screenshot: Euronews.

Fresh demonstrations have broken out in Iran, where protesters who took to the streets last weekend in the country's northwestern provinces to demand protection for a dying lake were harshly repressed by security forces. The protests were ignited by an Iranian parliament decision that activists called a "death sentence" for one of the world's largest saltwater lakes.Late last year, the Iranian government announced that it had allocated $1.7 billion over the next five years to redistribute water resources in the region around Lake Urmia (Orumiyeh) in an effort to save the lake, which has shrunk by some 60 percent due to misguided irrigation projects and extended drought.

'Let's Fill Lake Orumieh With Our Tears'
In mid-August, however, parliament, known as the Majlis, voted to kill "a proposal submitted by lawmakers from Orumieh that called for allocating funds to channel water from the Aras River to raise the level of the lake," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported yesterday. Lawmakers said the vote was not against protecting the lake, but against a bad proposal. That appeared to be little solace to frustrated residents of the region, who chanted "Let's cry and fill Lake Orumieh with our tears" and "Lake Orumieh is dying; the Majlis is issuing its death sentence" during their protest.

According to RFE/RL and other sources, protesters were repelled with rubber bullets, batons, and tear gas, a heavy-handed response likely brought on in part by the heavily ethnic-Azeri-populated region's "history as a hotbed of resistance." More than two dozen demonstrators were arrested, Euronews reported.

Designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve At Risk
Lake Urmia has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and is home to hundreds of species of birds, reptiles, and mammals. The number of flamingos and other migratory waterfowl in the area has already dropped by at least 70 percent due to the increasing salinity of the lake. According to the New York Times, "experts have warned that ecological factors, together with human activity, will eventually lead to the drying up of Lake Orumieh," turning it into another Aral Sea and displacing up to 13 million people who depend on it for their livelihoods.

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