Sunday, November 20, 2022

Approaching Death of Lake Urmia Threatens Tehran and Entire Region

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 17 – Over the law 50 years as the Aral Sea in Central Asia has dried up and is now on the verge of disappearing, the international community has come to understand that that development has affected not only the littoral states but the entire region and indeed other countries further afield.

            But now a similar crisis is emerging, although it has as yet not attracted much attention: the approaching death of Lake Urmia. It is now less than ten percent of the area and far less than that in terms of volume than it was only a few decades ago. However, because it is saline and entirely with the borders of Iran, few international observers have paid much attention.

            That is now likely to change not only because it is becoming obvious that the death of the lake, which is situated between the Iranian provinces of Eastern and Western Azerbaijan, will have a major impact not only on Iranian politics but on the Middle East to the south and west and the Caucasus to the North.

            Isa Kalanteri, former head of Iran’s environmental protection agency, says that if Lake Urmia completely disappears, “the authorities will encounter serious security problems” as a result of which “no government of Iran will be able to remain in place” (

            That is because salt storms from the former lake bed will spread over much of the country and force the population to move out because agriculture will be destroyed and continued human habitation impossible, the former environmental chief says.  He adds that the government has long been warned about this but has failed to take the necessary steps.

According to one Iranian official in the region, if the lake disappears, “approximately 14 million people” will have to move or be moved, a project that he suggests will cost a trillion US dollars, more than twice the annual GDP of Iran.

But the drying up of Lake Urmia is only the tip of the iceberg of Iran’s water problems, according to officials, approximately 28 million people now suffer from a shortage of potable water and/or water for irrigation, shortfalls that have already sparked political protests and that will spark more.

And these are likely to have an impact in neighboring countries because the region of Iran suffering most from the drying up of Lake Urmia and the water shortages in Iran is the north, which is populated by ethnic Azerbaijanis and is sometimes referred to as “Southern Azerbaijan.”

If these people take to the streets, Baku will find it difficult to stand aside, further complicating the already fraught relationship between the two countries.

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