Images from northwest Iran in recent years have told a grim environmental story: of a vast lake in retreat, of a beached ship and piers that jut out onto arid salt flats. But against the odds, one of the world’s largest salt lakes is now coming back to life, in a rare piece of good news from Iran.
A combination of man-made efforts and higher rainfall in recent years is “slowly, but surely reviving what was once the second largest saltwater lake in the world,” says Claudio Providas, Resident Representative in Iran
for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which is involved in a project to save the lake.
Urmia had been laid low by a combination of drought, an ever-increasing number of dams (Iran has been an enthusiastic builder of them for more than 60 years) and the overuse of underground water sources and rivers by local farmers. The lake began retreating in the mid-2000s and by 2014 had shrunk to a fraction of its former size, with reports of it holding just 500 million cubic metres of water, compared to 30 billion cubic metres when it had been full.