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« Water Game Time! Papers: 1) 'Computer-supported Games and Role Plays in Teaching Water Management'; 2) 'Irrigania' & More! | Main | Elaine J. Hanford's Bulletin Boards: 1) Geosciences; 2) Enviro-Sciences - 24 August 2015 »

Sunday, 23 August 2015


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Dear Michael,

Thanks for your post on the Urmia Lake and the workshop report.

I would like to bring your attention to two key points:

- This workshop was not organized to come up with solutions to the restoration of Urmia Lake. The scope of the workshop, as it is mentioned on the event website and in the report, was to see if and how the Water Diplomacy Framework can be applied to the Urmia case. So, what you see in the report is more of the directions and policies that the attendees/panelists have agreed upon to be recommended to the local authorities.

- I copy some part of the text from the second paragraph of page 10 in the report:

"It is recommended that social organizational arrangements be given a high priority for research in the basin. This also highlights the importance of social studies in the basin. As it was discussed here, there has not been an in depth social study on different aspects of this problem. This is necessary for the mediation to work. We need to know about the regional dimensions or groups. Or for example, how to resolve a conflict in this region? What kind of mediation and at what level is needed? NGOs shall become more active and link the central government to the local stakeholders."

This is exactly what you are referring to. Yes, there is no mention of the name of different tribes/communities, but this is asking the people in charge of the restoration plan to consider involving them.

The problem is, as we also discussed in the report and the workshop, the social studies are rare in this region. Therefore, we can't say with confidence what is the interest of each group/community in the restoration of the lake. All of the statements about the demand of different groups is based on personal observations and communications that can be very biased.

Here, we focused on recommending a more concrete policy to resolve the case. Rather than naming different tribes (that we might miss some of them, and make the case worse) we recommend the authorities to be aware of the positive influence they might have in finding a solution, and the fact that they should be involved in the decision making process.

I hope this clarifies the case.

S. Hamed Alemohammad


Hi, Jory.

Thanks for your comments. I trust things are going well for you.

Simply because the California situation does not heavily involve ethnic groups' differences (although I am not sure about that - certainly the tribes in the Colorado River basin are big players and don't play second fiddle to anyone) does not mean that ethnic issues do not need to be considered in water allocation, diplomacy, and conflict management.

I don't deny that ag water use is the big issue in the Urmia Lake basin but from what I have read (see the article by Kaveh Madani et al. that I linked to in the post I believe there is more to the Urmia Lake issue than simply ag water management.

See this paragraph from the article:

'The people of the north west – mainly Azeris and Kurds – are raising their voices. The Azeris, one of Iran’s most influential ethnic groups and about a third of the country’s population, venerate Urmia as a symbol of Azeri identity, dubbing it “the turquoise solitaire of Azerbaijan”. The region is also home to many Kurds, who are demanding a bigger say in the management of the lake to improve the livelihood of Kurdish communities.'

It doesn't seem to me that you can have a lasting, equitable solution if the aforementioned groups are not at the table.

Perhaps the importance of these two groups was mentioned in the videos, which I did not view in their entirety.

Again, thanks for your comments, Jory.

Jory Hecht

I participated in the Lake Urmia workshop in July. I wondered if ethnic divisions had a major influence on the Lake Urmia water allocation issue when I first became familiar with the case study as well. However, as with many other water allocation issues, the main conflict is between different sectors, i.e. agricultural vs. municipal vs. environmental, and issues along ethnic lines are second fiddle to sectoral ones. Think about the California drought. While there are some ethnic dimensions (tribal stakeholders, discrimination against Hispanic migrant workers), the main conflict is not an ethnic one. We don't have representatives of the whites, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans at the negotiation table because there are other interest groups defined by water needs that are more relevant for resolving drought-enhanced water allocation issues. While ethnic issues may play a role in this at some level (the governments of the provinces of West and East Azerbaijan and East Kurdistan are in the basin), excessive withdrawals for agriculture are the most critical issue right now.

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