Videos have shown trucks around Lake Urmia allegedly carrying titanium, sparking fears its mining may be destroying the Middle East’s once largest lake.
Iran Briefing, a group of investigative journalists, have speculated that authorities have been mining titanium, present in the northwestern lake, which could explain why the once thriving salt-lake has dried up.
Although there has been no official response to these claims, the Urmia region in West Azarbaijan province does possess a titanium mine and magnesium recovered from lake brine can be used to refine it.
A 500 million Euro Titanium mining project was announced in a village near Lake Urmia, approximately ten miles to its west, in January.
The reformist Etemad newspaper published satellite images of Lake Urmia in November and reported that in the past year, “80% of the lake’s water has dried up”, which “equates to the death of the sixth-largest saltwater lake globally.”
Some experts have ruled out the possibility of reviving the lake which has been illegally salt mined for years, with rumors last year of lithium mining. “It is not in the government’s interest, will, or power to revive Lake Urmia,” Roozbeh Eskandari, a hydraulic structures and dam construction expert, told Iran International.
Nikahang Kowsar, an environmental analyst, blames the IRGC, calling it “an environmental menace willing to destroy Iran’s water resources just to line its own pockets,” citing the building of dams “to finance the Quds Force budget,” Nikahang Kowsar told Iran International last month, branding the IRGC “Iran’s water mafia”.
“This is how the cost of building a dam like Gotvand [south of Iran] can increase from $1.5 billion to $3.3 billion, and nobody even dares to ask where all the money has gone when the contractor did such a poor job,” wrote the analyst in an article for Middle East Institute.
In 2020, the US said that any sales to Iran of titanium, among other metals including chromium, nickel and 60% tungsten, were sanctionable as they are useful to Iran’s nuclear, missile, and military programs.
Ali Salajegheh, the head of the Iranian Environmental Protection Organization, on Thursday neither denied nor approved the mining claims but said, “They need to be investigated.”
Meanwhile, the hardliner Fars News Agency, affiliated with the IRGC, quoted an academic as saying the “rumors” are not true.
Behzad Hessari, a professor at Urmia University and the director of the environment department of Urmia Lake Research Institute, told Fars: “Methane gas is high in regions like the frozen forests of Siberia. Due to climate change, the ice is melting and the stored methane gas is released. This is not true for Lake Urmia.”
The lake’s shrinking, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, risks both ecological and human implications. Once home to an array of wildlife, its decline increases the dust from the exposed lake bed reducing air quality, risking increased cases of respiratory illness among the local population.
Source: Iran International