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20 February 2014

Iranian president concerned about disappearing lake

Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, is concerned about saving the country's biggest lake and preventing it from disappearing completely.

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The first cabinet decision made under Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, wasn't about how to resolve his country's nuclear dispute with world powers. It was about how to keep the nation's largest lake from disappearing.

Lake Oroumieh, one of the biggest saltwater lakes on Earth, has shrunk more than 80% to 1000 square kilometres (nearly 400 square miles) in the past decade, mainly because of climate change, expanded irrigation for surrounding farms and the damming of rivers that feed the body of water, experts say.

Experts fear the lake – famous in years past as a tourist spot and a favourite stopping point for migrating flamingos, pelicans and gulls – could disappear within two years if nothing is done.

Tourists and jobs gone

"The lake is gone. My job is gone. My children are gone. Tourists, too," said Mozafar Cheraghi, 58, as he stood on a dusty platform that was once his bustling teahouse.

Less than a decade ago, he recalled, he hosted dozens of tourists a day, with his two sons taking them on boat tours. His children have since left to pursue work elsewhere.

Read: Drought endangers 500,000 children

Saving the lake

The president is putting an emphasis on tackling long-neglected environmental problems critics say were made worse by his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. An engineer with an appetite for giant populist projects, Ahmadinejad pursued policies that led to the expansion of irrigation projects and construction of dams.

"Rouhani stands by his campaign promise to revive the lake," Isa Kalantari, a popular scholar appointed by Rouhani to lead the rescue team, said at an international conference in Oroumieh this week.

The gathering brought experts from Iran and around the world to discuss the best options for reversing the trend and saving Iran from a major environmental and economic disaster.

Who's responsible?

"Don't blame nature and drought. Human beings, not climate change, are responsible for this situation. We dried up the lake because of our excessive demands and wrong methods. Now, we have to revive it ourselves. Five million people will have to leave this region if the lake dies," Kalantari said.

Read: Drought and global warming are killing off plants

Rescue plan

Kalantari and his team are to come up with a final rescue plan by May.

Twenty proposals are on the table for saving the lake, including cloud-seeding to increase rainfall in the area and the building of pipelines to bring in more water. Experts have also proposed the creation of other industries to reduce reliance on agricultural water.

The government has already begun a project to raise public awareness and encourage farmers to abandon wasteful practices and adopt drip irrigation systems that save water. It is also urging farmers to switch to less-thirsty crops. Wheat and pistachios, for example, use less water than sugar beets.


Read more:

Worst drought in 60 years hits Africa

SA rivers heavily polluted




AP

 
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