Lake Urmia (LU) located between East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan and Kurdistan provinces in North-Western Iran was once the largest lake in the Middle East which shrunk and dried up during the last decade due to drought and competition among many development sectors overusing the water resources. This phenomenon had impacts on biodiversity and socio-economics dimensions, including the livelihood and health of the surrounding communities also resulting in a gradual increase of soil salinity and unsustainability of the agriculture in the entire basin.
For more than 6 years, Local Community Participation in Restoration of Lake Urmia has involved 11,000 farmers, trained 2,800 farmers, employed and empowered 200 local experts. It has also involved 12 NGOs, trained 800 rural women to take a role in Lake Urmia restoration and engaged more than 250 rural women in green jobs.
All of this has happened through the Conservation of Iranian Wetlands Project, one of UNDP’s successful and long-standing projects that attempts to address the main causes of Iran's wetland degradation by applying the ecosystem approach of the Convention on Biological Diversity at three levels:
Local level (sites): By empowering local communities and developing the capacity of other stakeholders to manage and address wetland threats.
Catchment area level: By engaging provincial stakeholders in integrated wetland management to tackle external threats and to increase public awareness.
National level: By capacity building in the Department of Environment to integrate wetland conservation management and by extending wetland conservation measures to other national ministries and stakeholders.
Since 2014, a new component for “Modelling Local Community Participation in Restoration of Lake Urmia through Establishment of Sustainable Agriculture and Biodiversity Conservation” has been added to the project with the generous financial contribution from the Government of Japan, This project specifically addresses the restoration of Lake Urmia through promotion of sustainable agriculture and effective reduction of water consumption. The project engages with local communities and farmers using Sustainable Agriculture Techniques.
The results of the implementation of several sustainable agriculture pilot projects by this project in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture in about 150 pilot farms in the surrounding villages of Lake Urmia, shows that there is a high potential for reducing water consumption and chemical inputs, while the farmers' income is maintained. The allocation of international resources along with governmental and non-governmental infrastructures and resources has led to the formation of a social flow at national and local levels to restore lake Urmia.