Efforts to improve livelihoods and contribute to restoration of Lake Urmia bear fruit

Jun 26, 2016

  Farmers working in the field in Bonab city located in East Azerbaijan

Lake Urmia is one of the World’s largest inland hypersaline lakes. Situated in North West of Iran, it is part of a unique biodiversity rich ecosystem of also freshwater wetlands and rivers that are essential to the livelihoods of more than 5 million people living in the basin.  This Ramsar Site - which is also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a National Park - has been shrinking at an alarming rate. A considerable part of the lake has been lost and is unlikely to ever be fully restored. But due to efforts by multiple actors, the hope for restoration it is not lost.

One of the initiatives that is helping the restorative efforts of the site, is supported by the Government of Japan who has generously contributed US$ 3 million through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) over the past three years. The Japanese funding comes on top of the funding provided by the Department of Environment (DOE) and UNDP to support Lake Urmia restoration efforts by a range of partners counting also 29 agriculture, local cooperatives as well as more than 10 local NGOs. 

  Range of partners working together in East Azerbaijan to promote sustainable agriculture

As witnessed by visit of interested parties to the region on 20 and 21st June, this funding has enabled the development of a strong community engagement in the restoration efforts with a particular focus on more sustainable agricultural practices. Through these efforts, water and costly input such as artificial fertilizer and pesticides have been saved, yields have improved and the livelihoods of farmers are being sustained and even improved. 

“I am extremely happy to see such a high level of engagement of the local community with this project.  To overcome environmental challenges, each citizen should feel responsible and take action towards protecting and safeguarding the environment.  This is something that we are witnessing in the villages I visited today.” the Ambassador of Japan to the Islamic Republic of Iran, H.E. Hiroyasu Kobayashi said speaking to the press.

Mr. Kobayashi added: “I am also pleased to see the involvement and partnership between different sectors in order to achieve the common goals which we have set for this project.  Based on President Rouhani’s commitment to restore Lake Urmia and protect the environment, we – as the Government of Japan – decided to contribute and support UNDP’s efforts.  This partnership has now lasted for three years and we will continue to support this initiative as long as we can, because overcoming environmental challenges is very important for us.”   

  A delegation of representatives from Embassy of Japan, Department of Environment, Ministry of Agriculture Jihad and UNDP visited East Azerbaijan province and Lake Urmia on 20-21 June

During this trip Mr. Kobayashi visited multiple villages where farmers are implementing the sustainable agriculture techniques and engaging in alternative income-generating activities. He also observed the current condition of the lake and met with the Governor General of East Azerbaijan, and other regional and local officials.

Mr. Kobayashi was accompanied by a delegation of representatives from UNDP led by UNDP Deputy Resident Representative, Mr. B. Murali, and from the DOE and Ministry of Agriculture Jihad.

During the mission, Mr. Murali also shared his thoughts by stating: “From all indications which are available to us so far, we have made very satisfactory progress, but we still have a long way to go with limited time and challenges.  On behalf of UNDP, I would also like to acknowledge the strong partnership we enjoy with the Department of Environment led by her Excellency Madam Ebtekar.”

Mr. Murali added: “UNDP has always been and will continue to be on standby to respond to the Government of Iran’s request and continue the partnership and support to make this project a success.”

  Lake Urmia pictured on 21 June - Local officials informed the visiting delegation that the water level in the lake had improved compared to last year, despite lower rainfall

While visiting one of the pilot sites in Bonab, Mr. Kobayashi interacted with local farmers.  When he asked one of the farmers why he decided to join the sustainable agriculture plan, the man said: “I had a piece of land which was dried-out and I wanted to sell it.  But then I was introduced to this project and suddenly I had hope again.  I decided to be a part of this initiative as opposed to running away from the problem. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to consume less water so that the Lake can be restored in the long run.  Now, my farm is green and beautiful.  There are many crops and I am thankful for having my livelihood back, but at the same time I feel good because I have been trained and I am using less water in the process of growing my crops.”

At the end of the day, the delegation visited Lake Urmia.  Local officials informed the visiting delegation that the water level in the lake had improved compared to last year, despite lower rainfall.

The efforts to contribute to the restoration of Lake Urmia is part of UNDP’s collaboration with DOE to upscale integrated wetlands management, initiated in the first phase of the Conservation of the Iranian Wetlands Project into 12 Iranian wetlands. 

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