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Experts warn about deficiencies of project to transfer River Aras water to Lake Urmia

21 February 2014 09:12 (UTC+04:00)
Experts warn about deficiencies of project to transfer River Aras water to Lake Urmia

By Sara Rajabova

Some experts warn about the deficiencies of Iran project to transfer the River Aras water to the Lake Urmia which is experiencing its worst drought condition in recent decades.

Member of the Iranian parliament's presidium Alireza Munadi said last week, the required environmental and technical permission for the implementation of the project to transfer the River Aras water to Lake Urmia has already been received, the Iranian İRNA agency reported.

Munadi said the economic evaluation of the project has been carried out and its implementation will soon begin, adding that the contracting companies in this project have already been chosen and investments for the implementation of the project will be provided by a German company.

He said currently, preparatory work to start the project is underway and the project will be launched by the end of the year (Iranian calendar year), stressing around $1.2 billion will be invested in the project.

However, the River Aras is a trans-boundary river and water transfer from there will probably affect the river's ecology. The water transfer will also have impacts on people's life living along the River Aras, as its water is used for drinking and irrigation.

Commenting on the issue, Director of Geography Institute of Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences (ANAS), Ramiz Mammadov told AzerNews that the water transfer from the River Aras will negatively affect the ecosystem of the river.

Mammadov said water transfer from the river can lead to the reduction of water in the downstream of the river and as a result to drying up the river in some places.

He said this project even has not support in Iran especially the Ardabil province of Iran was against it saying this will negatively affect supply of drinkable water and water for irrigation.

The project on directing 600 million cubic meters of water from Aras River into Lake Urmia was launched during a visit by former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and government officials to Tabriz in 2010. Some $1.2 billion is to be allocated to implement the project.

Azerbaijan and Iran has signed agreement on the rules for the use of water and energy resources of the River Aras. Under the agreement, Azerbaijan and Iran should use the river's water and energy resources at the same level.

Commenting on the issue, the Iranian ecologist, Professor Esmail Kahrom told AzerNews that the ecologists in Iran do not agree with this project, because it damages the watering of Arasbaran protected area and all the agricultural lands over there and all the way from river to Lake Urmia.

"Also we do not have enough water to transfer to Urmia Lake. The Lake Urmia is in the higher altitude relative to Aras River so we have to spend a lot of money and energy to transfer the water," Kahrom said.

He said on the other hand, Azerbaijan does not agree with that because the water in Aras River is shared, it is common between Iran and Azerbaijan. "So I think this project will never ever take off, it will never be implemented," Kahrom said. He added that it is against all the international laws and rules.

Also, Iran prepared project to transfer Caspian Sea water to Lake Urmia. Iranian Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian said last month Iranian parliament has approved the project on transfer of water from the Caspian Sea to the Lake Urmia and deserts in the country's central parts.

Chitchian noted that funds have been allocated from Iran's state budget for this project.

Commenting on this issue, Kahrom said it is even more difficult, because Caspian Sea is in the lower plain.

He said the altitude of Caspian Sea in some areas is about -21 meters below the level of the sea waters and oceans, but the Lake Urmia is almost 850 meters above the Caspian Sea, therefore Iran has to spend more money and energy to transfer the water.

"So I do not think it is possible to do that and I do not think that we will do that. Actually, we have a committee working towards reviving Lake Urmia and this committee has decided that transfer of water is not a wise thing to do because the above mentioned reasons," Kahrom said.

Chitchian said earlier uncontrolled development of agricultural areas around the Lake Urmia is the main reason for the lake's drying up, adding that if agricultural water consumption isn't managed properly, the Lake Urmia will never be revived.

He said agricultural areas around the Lake have increased from 150,000 hectares to 480,000 hectares in recent years.

Chitchian further added that the areas consume some 3.1 billion cubic meters of water per each year, noting the figure is exactly equal to the needed water for the lake's revival.

Climatic changes are another reason which led Lake Urmia to dry up, Chitchian said.

He said the average temperature has increased by 1-2 degrees, while annual rainfall has decreased.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has established a working group to tackle the issue of saving Lake Urmia.

Rohani also signed special instruction to suspend work on the construction of the dam around Lake Urmia.

The shoaling problem of Lake Urmia is a matter of concern not only to the Iranian government, but also to the other countries and international organizations of the world.

UN Resident Coordinator Gary Lewis in October 2013 proposed ways to prevent the death of the world's largest saltwater lake, the Lake Urmia.

Lewis warned in his report that the slow death of the Lake Urmia signals a warning for the future.

Over 70 percent of Lake Urmia's water has dried up. The level of the water has been declining since 1995.

The area of Lake Urmia is the third largest salt water lake on earth, which has 6,000 square kilometers surface. During the migrations of birds the lake becomes their temporary home. The lake's drying up has an impact on the flora and fauna of the region. Experts on environmental issues say that the measures taken by the Iranian government are not enough to save the lake.

The Iranian government allocated $900 million to prevent Lake Urmia's drying up in September 2011.

Also, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has allocated $135 million to Iran to resolve environmental problems with shoaling of the lake.

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