Five lakes in the Middle East at risk of drying up

    10 Oct 2021

    The Middle East is at the forefront of the global climate crisis, with temperatures frequently crossing the 50° C mark in some parts of the region. Rising temperatures and mismanagement are contributing to water insecurity and could lead to environmental crises.

    High temperatures combined with accompanying droughts, erratic rainfall patterns, and environmental mismanagement, risk leaving an irreversible impact on natural landscapes and geographic formations.

    Foremost among these are the region’s lakes, which have been shrinking due to the combined impact of low inflows and surface evaporation.

    Poor environmental planning, such as redirecting water from streams and rivers that feed the lakes, has also impacted water levels.

    The consequences are not limited to there being less water. Still, they include the knock-on effects on livelihoods and increasing salinity, making it impossible for fish and other marine life to survive.

    With populations rising across the Middle East and the demand for fresh water and food resources growing, the fate of the region’s lakes could have dramatic consequences.

    Let’s look at the Middle East Eye compilation of some of the lakes under threat.


    Lake Urmia, Iran

    Once the Middle East’s biggest lake, much of Iran’s Lake Urmia has transformed into a salt plain.


    The salt-water lake, situated in northwest Iran, was once one of Iran’s most prominent tourist attractions and provided a livelihood for local fishermen. However, today dilapidated buildings and boats surround the lake, which has largely dried up.

    According to Iranian officials, the lake has halved in size since 1990, with climate change contributing to shrinking its water basin and the increasing salinity of the water that remains.

    High salt levels have left the land surrounding the lake unfit for agricultural production, further adding to the woes of locals.

    According to Iranian media, the lake, which was once home to around 60,000 flamingos, has experienced a 30cm drop in water levels during the first quarter of 2021 alone due to lower than expected rainfall.

    There is also a man-made element to its demise, and there are 43 dams on rivers surrounding the Urmia basin contributing to lower water levels.

    Water security seems set to be an increasingly important issue in Iran, and shortages helped spark widespread protests in the southwestern Khuzestan province in the summer of 2021.



    Lake Tuz, Turkey

    Turkey’s Lake Tuz (Lake Salt) may soon lose the distinction of being one of the country’s largest lakes, as regular droughts affect water levels.

    Located in the central province of Konya, Lake Tuz experienced an uninterrupted drought in the first seven months of 2021, according to researcher Professor Ecmel Erlat.

    Warming temperatures and water use for irrigation have also contributed to the drop, Erlat told local media.

    The lake’s shrinking has taken a toll on wildlife, with thousands of flamingos dying as their habitat becomes more and more inhospitable.

    Researchers have warned that conditions will worsen if action is not taken to protect the area’s environment.


    The Dead Sea

    The Dead Sea is popular among tourists for its high salinity, which helps keep swimmers afloat, and its mineral-rich properties.

    Some believe the water has healing properties, while others revere it for its historical presence in the biblical tradition.

    Landlocked between Jordan, Israel, and the occupied West Bank, the salt lake also bears the distinction of being the lowest point on Earth.

    Like other lakes on this list, the Dead Sea has been shrinking due to a mixture of man-made and environmental causes.

    Israel, which occupies the Palestinian shore of the lake, has since the 1960s diverted inflows from feeder rivers and streams to address its own need for water.

    Experts also believe that exploitation of the lake’s waters for mineral extractions has helped reduce water levels. Minerals in the Dead Sea are often used in cosmetics and wellness products.

    The lake’s surface area has shrunk by around a third since the 1960s, with estimates suggesting that water levels decline by more than a meter a year.

    As water levels drop, sinkholes have begun to appear, destroying the landscape and making it unsafe for people to walk on.



    Lake Milh, Iraq

    Iraq’s Lake Milh, also sometimes referred to as Lake Razzaza, is located west of Karbala and once attracted thousands of people for day trips. However, the lake now resembles deserted land after a dramatic drying up of its waters.

    Fed by the Euphrates river, rainfall, and groundwater, Lake Milh once helped provide a livelihood for Iraqis living nearby. But as it disappears, the local economy is starting to shrink with it, with tourism particularly affected.

    The lake is now littered with washed-up fish and abandoned fishing boats, with tourist numbers slowing down to a trickle.

    Regional water policies have contributed to the declining water levels in the lake, with many blaming the slowing flow from the Euphrates River, which is in turn caused by dams further upstream in Turkey.

    According to Aoun Thyb, a member of the advisory board for the country’s Ministry of Water Resources, in the 1990s, the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture tried to launch a project to farm sea fish. Still, it failed, indicating the lake was dead.

    Iraqi officials have also stated that the lake’s shrinking was due to the frequent droughts Iraq has been experiencing in recent years, which could continue until 2026.  

    Efforts to rescue the lake are further complicated by significant levels of pollution present in its waters.



    Lake Van, Turkey

    Lake Van is one of the largest lakes in Turkey, and its idyllic setting among the mountains of eastern Anatolia has helped make it a popular tourist destination.

    As a salt lake, its water is not helpful for agricultural irrigation and human consumption, but high temperatures have helped lower its surface levels.

    Scientists have warned that the lake faces an existential threat due to the impacts of global warming, with evaporation rates at the lake currently three times the precipitation level.

    Experts believe that if the current patterns continue, the lake will continue to shrink and eventually dry up completely.


    Take a look why water has become a luxury commodity and how to divide all 3% of the fresh water on Earth here.

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