The debate over the potential health impacts of Lake Urmia has lately dominated Iranian media, with those involved in the restoration project frequently pointing to cancer, high blood pressure and respiratory problems as the main fallouts of the lake drying up.
Experts say if the lake dries up, it will affect all life in a 100-kilometer radius, even forcing residents of a metropolis like Tabriz to evacuate.
The dire state of the lake has tempers running high. Mehdi Ahmadi of the Urmia Lake Restoration Program recently accused the Ministry of Health of “not doing enough” to assess the health effects of the lake’s desiccation and take measures to ensure minimal damage is inflicted, ILNA reported.
Ahmadi warned that dried salt particles are easily scattered by winds, which end up affecting air quality.
“Salt pans (flat expanses of ground covered with salt and other minerals) reflect the Sun’s rays which, in the long run, can have adverse effects on eyesight and skin,” he said.
Asked how he reached that conclusion, Ahmadi, a researcher at Sharif University of Technology, said extensive studies done on the desiccation of similar water bodies, namely Aral Sea, attest to the dire health effects of a lake drying up.
Not Doing Enough
Ahmadi took the Ministry of Health and medical universities to task for not conducting health studies on the effects of Lake Urmia’s desiccation.
“It’s the ministry’s job to conduct such studies, but unfortunately, since the establishment of ULRP, certain government bodies have tried to delegate their responsibilities to the program. It is not our job to do what they’re obliged to,” he said.
Nevertheless, the restoration program had no choice but to take measures to push other bodies to do the same.
“But it didn’t work,” Ahmadi said.
In response to Ahmadi’s accusations, Abbas Zarenejad, head of the ministry’s Public Relations Department, issued a statement published online by ILNA.
“The main policy in the field of health is prevention; treatment only begins when prevention fails,” the statement reads.
“Treatments cost substantially more and are less effective than preventive measures.”
Zarenejad urges Ahmadi and other experts involved in the restoration program to “concentrate their efforts on finding ways to replenish the lake and spend less time worrying about its health effects.”
He says, rather controversially, the lake’s desiccation has two possible outcomes: It is either going to have adverse health effects, or not.
“Salt particles are either going to cause health problems, which necessitates action; or they’re not, which means no response is needed,” he said.
In defense of Urmia University of Medical Sciences, Zarenejad said the university’s “innate obligation” is to constantly study and assess anything that poses health risks to people.
The war of words between the two bodies highlights a lack of harmony and cooperation, which will only exacerbate the problem and people stand to lose the most as a result of this clash.
Whereas authorities constantly call for cooperation between officials and the people, public disagreements such as the quarrel between the Ministry of Health and the Urmia Lake Restoration Program will dishearten those who look forward to Iran overcoming its worsening environmental challenges.