Lake Urmia, which is located in the west Azerbaijan region of Iran, is the third largest salt-water lake in the world, the largest lake in the Middle East and one of the environmental wonders of the world.

It is registered as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO and listed as a wetland of international importance under the 1971 Ramsar Convention, to which the government of Iran included Lake Urmia on June 23, 1975.

Over the past several years, due to reckless and irresponsible irrigation and infrastructure projects (bridges, hydroelectric stations, dams) that disregard environmental impact assessments, Lake Urmia, which was listed at 483,000 hectares at the time of the Ramsar Convention, has shrunk by up to 70 percent in area size and its depth has fallen by seven meters. This is clearly visible from Google Maps, where huge salt-covered areas are now dry, serving as a reminder of the lake’s former size and splendor.

According to experts, if the lake completely dries up, then up to 10 tons of salt will be released into the atmosphere resulting in an ecological catastrophe not only in Azerbaijani cities of Iran, and as far away as the capital city of Tehran, but also to neighboring countries such as Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Millions of people could be displaced, resulting in refugees and additional burden on neighboring countries.

The U.S. Azeris Network calls upon the U.S. government and Congress to use its influence and position in the United Nations and its agencies, as well as calls on all environmental nongovernmental organizations to put additional pressure on the government of Iran to take immediate actions to fulfill their commitments to preserve Lake Urmia.

The Iranian government should expedite the conserving and water transferring plans, and adjust its own $1.7 billion lake restoration plan, which despite a generous dollar sum, envisions unscientific, unproven and ineffective solutions that are doomed to fail.

A revised action plan, reworked with the assistance and guidance from the international community, should be launched and implemented immediately to be effective in protecting the lake’s flora and fauna.

This environmental catastrophe must be stopped before it is too late. A detailed action plan on how to save the lake is available from USAN.

Polad M. Shikhaliev, Ph.D.

assistant professor, medical physics, LSU

Baton Rouge