Joining forces to save Iran’s drying wetlands

Feb 21, 2016

  UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Reprentative, Mr. Gary Lewis (left) and Dr. Hesamodin Ashna, Advisor to President Rouhani (right)

The future security and wellbeing of humanity is being challenged by a number of things relating to the environment.  The concept of human security equates security with people rather than territory – with development rather than arms.  In this sense, our security to have access to food and water, to breathe clean air as well as our security to have jobs are all under threat.  This is simply because the environment is at risk.

Here in Iran the story is no different from the rest of the world.

From north to south, east to west Iran’s wetlands are drying up at an alarming rate and water scarcity is one of the biggest environmental challenges of the country.

As a result of over-consumption and using traditional agricultural methods, water is being wasted.  This man-made problem has a man-made solution.

For example, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) jointly with the Government of Iran – at national and provincial level, the Department of Environment, Government of Japan, local communities and NGOs initiated a project in Lake Urmia to re-divert water back to the Lake.  The essence of the solution is to work with farmers to use better and modern techniques which consumes less water – and ultimately saves water.

The saved water thus becomes available to refill the lake and increase the ground water levels in the basin.  This will probably not restore the lake to the stage that it was in the 1990s.  But it can be restored to some level of environmental viability. 

  Workshop on Lake Urmia restoration at the Centre for Strategic Studies was held on 21 February

To share the lessons learned from this initiative and to potentially expand this project to other parts of the country, a one-day workshop was organized by Iran’s Centre for Strategic Studies led by Dr. Hesamodin Ashna, Advisor to President Rouhani.  The event was attended by governor generals of different provinces and other government officials, NGOs working in the field, farmers, academia and the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, Mr. Gary Lewis.

In his opening message, Dr. Ashna stated: “Reviving Lake Urmia is one of the promises of Dr. Rouhani’s administration.  This is a unique opportunity for scientists, technical experts, environmentalists, national and international organizations, politicians, local communities to come together and achieve this goal.  This job requires the efforts of all.”

Dr. Ashna added: “UNDP believes that what is currently being carried out in Urmia can be a sustainable way to manage water and revive the lake.  So, we have gathered here today to introduce the method to participants, share the lessons learned, compare this project to others which are being carried out, and to explore possible ways in expanding this specific project to other wetlands.”

He then thanked UNDP for their efforts.

  From north to south, east to west Iran’s wetlands are drying up at an alarming rate and water scarcity is one of the biggest environmental challenges of the country

Mr. Gary Lewis also spoke at the event and referred to some of what he believes are Iran’s biggest environmental challenges.  Scarcity of water.  Deforestation and desertification.  Air and water pollution.  Sand and dust storms.

Mr. Lewis then said: “The climate change that is scientifically proven – and about which we are hearing a great deal – will come to the Middle East.  It will have a very devastating impact over the next several years.  In the near future, the evidence tells us that our region will become hotter and drier.  So we must focus on one essential ingredient in our thinking about human security.  And that is water.”

“Within the boundaries of Iran – we are seeing a significant decrease in our water.  In the Hamouns.  In Isfahan and Khuzestan.  In the villages and cities in the Central Iran where much water is over-pumped for agriculture, and of course in the area which we have gathered to discuss today – Lake Urmia […] So ladies and gentlemen, I believe that the United Nations and the colleagues gathered in this room today are here for a reason.  And that is to learn from the past.  To learn from what we have done right – and what we have done wrong” said Mr. Lewis.

The morning session concluded with presentations made by project officers. 

This one-day session today started as an idea in the mind of Dr. Ashna some months ago when he and Mr. Lewis first discussed the issue of environmental security in Iran.  Then Centre for Strategic studies together with UNDP organized this session. 

The participation of farmers was key as they could share their first-hand experience about the changes they are witnessing since they started using modernized agricultural techniques in Urmia – namely: conserving water while yielding higher yields of agricultural products. 

UNDP Around the world

You are at UNDP Iran 
Go to UNDP Global