“Life has returned to the dying Salt Lake in North-West Iran. The effort to restore what had been broken is succeeding,” Lewis said in a statement about the Lake Orumiyeh (Urmia) after he has recently visited it after four years.
“I was able to see water. Not nearly enough, but much more than last time. The lake is reviving. And this revival is the result of an immensely successful collaborative effort involving many players – some Iranian, some foreign.”
Lake Orumiyeh was once Iran’s largest lake. In its prime, it was the second largest saltwater lake in the world. But years of man-made disruption – from the frenzy of 60 years of dam-building to the massive over-use of feeder rivers – had diverted the natural flow of sweet water from the surrounding basin into the salty lake. As a result, it simply dried out. It died at the hands of humans.
Recalling the memories of his past visits to the Lake Orumiyeh, Lewis said, “I remember standing on a dead, flat, salt bed – which is what the exposed bottom of the lake has become. The water had all gone. But the wind hadn’t. And that gusting wind was whipping up all the exposed salt granules and blowing them into my face, into my lungs and onto the agricultural lands which surround the lake. It was like what I imagined a scene from the planet Mars might resemble.”
However, the UNDP resident envoy referred to his latest visit to the Lake’s basin earlier this month saying, “Water. Not deep. But enough to cover the salt dust granules which had caused such havoc before. As we drove across the bridge which bisects the lake, the glimmering started to stretch out towards the rising sun.
“Here is what I saw this morning.
“I must confess I was so happy that tears were welling up in my eyes.”
Lewis believes that the environmental problems created by humans can be fixed through certain measures.
“UNDP’s interventions to save Iranian wetlands including Lake Urmia – starting 12 years ago, but intensifying significantly with the addition of 3 phases of Japanese funds – have focused on working with local farmers, cooperatives and government to support a new model of partnership among stakeholders and initiate an adaptation process by implementing sustainable agriculture techniques. It has also advocated alternative livelihoods for women using micro-credit and biodiversity conservation.
At present the project’s interventions cover sites all around the lake, and most affected, part of the lake basin, Lewis said.
He stressed that environmental problems cannot be solved “if we act alone. The Lake Urmia response shows that it takes leadership by public authorities, acting in collaboration with the affected communities, and sometimes with support from the international community (technical support from UNDP and financial support from a partner like Japan) to do the trick.
“What has happened in Lake Urmia is an example to inspire us all – both within and beyond Iran.”