11/10/2011, 00.00
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Lake Orumieh dries up. Fears of exodus of 14 million people

In a few years the surface areas has decreased by 60%. The people blame the governments poor development policies. Turkey and Azerbaijan invite Tehran to take serious action. Located on the border with Azerbaijan, the Ormieh is the largest lake in the Middle East and the third largest salt basin in the world.
Tehran (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Lake Orumieh (northwestern Iran), the world's third largest salty water basin, is drying up. Due to evaporation and the exploitation of tributary rivers the surface area of 5 thousand sq. km has decreased by 60%. According to experts, it could disappear within a few years, forcing more than 14 million people to flee their lands. Fearing an invasion, Turkish and Azerbaijani authorities have called on Tehran to take serious steps to slow down the desertification of the area.

The ethnic Azerbaijani population is accusing the government's development policies, which in recent years have blocked tributary rivers with hydroelectric dams and forced farmers to irrigate their fields by exploiting the groundwater, the main power source of the lake. In addition, in 2008 the completion of major highway connecting the two shores of the basin in one of the points where the water is shallower. In recent months the cities and villages around the lake were the scene of violent anti-government protests. The most recent dates back to last Sept. 1, when thousands of people gathered in Tabriz to demonstrate against the government's decision to terminate the rehabilitation of the lake. The authorities arrested more than 20 people.

Located on the border with Azerbaijan, the lake is considered one of the most famous scenic areas of the country, with over 100 islands and rocky islets. For centuries its waters and its mud have been used for the preparation of creams and ointments for skin care. The ecosystem includes more than 200 animal species including birds, reptiles, and as many as 27 types of mammals, such as the yellow deer of Iran. Due to the high salinity the lake does not have any form of life.

With the progressive withdrawal of water, the delicate ecosystem is now in danger of disappearing. In Urmia and Tabriz, the two main cities in the region, the ports are now without water. Everywhere there are carcasses of ships stranded on the bottom of the lake. Piers, bridges and old beaches for swimming are unrecognizable and the entire perimeter around the lake is a huge expanse of salt. Nazardust Ali, head of Iran’s department for the protection of lakes, says that the waters on the shores of Urmia have decreased by one third and the salinity is equal to 330% in the past it was 160%.

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