Lake Urmia (Iran) shrinking, increased risk for salt storms

Some decades ago, Lake Urmia in northwestern Iran used to be the biggest salt lake in the Middle East, and the sixth largest lake on Earth. It was once a popular tourist destination, its shores bustled with restaurants and hotels. Vacationers bathed in the saline waters, smearing their bodies with the black mud that purportedly aided ailments from stiff joints to skin afflictions.
Not anymore, because in the last twenty years, the lake has shrunk substantially. Lake Urmia now only contains five percent of the amount of water it did two decades ago. Many factors have contributed to its disappearance. According to The Guardian, in 2008, a 15 kilometer long causeway between Urmia and Tabriz was built, effectively slicing Lake Urmia in half[1].

The United Nations Environment Program reported in 2012 that 65 percent of the decline came from climate change, while 25 percent was due to dams and another 10 percent from a decrease in precipitation[2].
Serious consequences are predicted for the vegetation, animal life and surrounding population if the lake continues to dry. A loss of brine shrimp has led to a decrease in migratory birds in the area. The exposed lakebed is becoming a salty desert, leaving the population and vegetation at an increased risk of salt storms, that sweep across the exposed lakebed, diminishing the productivity of surrounding agricultural lands and encouraging farmers to move away. Poor air, land, and water quality all have serious health effects including respiratory and eye diseases.

[1] The Guardian: Lake Urmia: how Iran’s most famous lake is disappearing – January 2015
[2] United Nations Environment Program: The drying of Iran's Lake Urmia and its environmental consequences – 2012. See here.

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