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indigenous issues | sustainability

One of the world's largest salt lakes in danger

Sometimes in the hazy fog of crater lake in Oregon, I'll have flashbacks of my childhood in Iran in the early 80's. Summertime was spent on my grandmother's farm in fields, climbing walnut orchards, running after water buffalo and playing in streams. The feature of my summers at my grandmothers before war broke out between Iran and Iraq was Urumiyeh Lake. At the time, it was one of the largest salt lakes in the world bustling with agriculture and wildlife. In fact, I almost drowned in it once as a toddler. Luckily my uncle alerted my father from his boat that I was floating face down. Whew!
There's a long tradition of wine making in the region. I can still remember the aroma of the grape juice as its being trampled by feet of every size. A long tradition is to harvest fresh, young cucumbers and eat them in the lake after dipping them in the highly salted water. It would be an international catastrophe is this lake is allowed to die.
The lake has a long history with archeological evidence going back tens of thousands of years. May have been the geographical location of Garden of Eden. Its where Islam, Christianity, Shamanism, Judaism, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism literally met. During my childhood years, the lake was beautiful, full of water and wildlife, especially birds that love the special shrimp called Artemia, which used to flourish in it.

Over 200 species of migratory birds visit the lake annually including large birds such as Storks and Pink Flamingos. The lake used to be a favorite european tourist destination for its health spa treatments with mud soaks. Apparently it did wonders for people with skin cancer. The locals have used the healing properties of the lake for thousands of years.

Main problems from my stand point:
1. the building of a mass land bridge right down the middle of the lake finished in 2008. This disrupted the flow and cooling ability of the lake. The removal of this landmass should be first priority. They need to build a traditional bridge with flow. As of now, the water might be too salty to build anything at all and is putting the steel structure of the bridge in jeopardy.
2. the building of several major hydroelectric dams and irrigation dams upstream from the lake has cut its supply water by roughly 35%.
3. rapid development in the area has put further pressure on lake resources.
4. government tried to cover up the problem for years, now has allocated almost $5 billion for all the wrong rehab projects.
5. Introduction of chemical pesticides and fertilizers in the last 15 years have increased lake salinity and agricultural run-off.

Already over a million people have been forced to move due to unbearable salt storms. Agriculture around the lake is under threat, which is Iran's bread basket. May soon seize to exist.
30-60 million people could be forced to relocate in the next 10 years if lake is allowed to continue to dry at current rate.
NW Iran is really close to Turkey, Russia and Europe. It will make Europe's current refugee crisis look like a walk in the park.

Please spread this around. The only way to help is from outside as internal politics are too harsh to navigate for locals leading to beatings, arrests and even executions of local lake environmentalists.