Caspian Sea water levels dropping cause alarm in Iran's north

Caspian Sea water levels dropping cause alarm in Iran's north
Environmental disaster awaits all the countries of the Caspian. / bne IntelliNews
By bne Tehran bureau May 20, 2024

Ahmad Donyamali, an Iranian MP from Anzali on the Caspian coast, has raised serious concerns in the country’s parliament over the falling water levels of the Caspian Sea, which he says are damaging the Anzali Lagoon.

The Caspian Sea, the largest inland body of water globally, has been experiencing a massive decrease in water levels over the past decade. This decline, attributed to climate change and upstream diversions, is endangering its unique ecosystem, which has been the lifeblood of both humans and animals for millennia. The Caspian has shorelines in five countries: Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan. Kazakhstan’s section is the shallowest, while Iran has the deepest in the south.

The sea is home to over 400 indigenous species, including the endangered Caspian sturgeon and rare freshwater seals. Pollution from industrial waste, untreated sewage, and agricultural runoff has worsened the situation, posing severe risks to the sea's flora and fauna.

The Iranian MP urged the government to create a new presidential commission to tackle the ongoing drop in the Caspian Sea's level, and create a working group across the country and with neighbours as a priority. 

He said the economic implications are also "significant," adding that ports and docks in "coastal regions on the coastline "are becoming less accessible," disrupting shipping and transit operations to the country with its neighbours in Russia and Kazakhstan.

Meanwhile, further north, the Volga River, a crucial water source for the Caspian Sea, has suffered from a lack of maintenance, exacerbating navigation issues in recent years with the silting up of the river and its tributaries causing several ships to run aground.

In his address, Donyamali urged the Supreme Council of Free Zones to prioritise development efforts in Anzali and called for annual reviews and potential amendments to parliamentary procedures to enhance legislative efficiency.

Projections indicate that the Caspian Sea's water levels could drop by 9 to 18 metres by the end of the century, potentially reducing its surface area by 23 to 34%.

Such a decline would have catastrophic ecological and human impacts, including the desiccation of major areas like the northern Caspian shelf and coastal regions.

In June 2023, government officials in Kazakhstan raised the alarm over what they said is the critically low level of the Caspian Sea.

City hall in Aktau, the capital of the western Mangystau region, said in a statement on June 8 that it was declaring a state of emergency over a situation that poses a grave risk to the maritime industry. 

The retreat of the Caspian Sea from Kazakhstan’s coast began in 2005. Since then, the level has dropped by one-and-a-half meters. And yet whenever environmentalists and activists have shared their concerns by posting photos and videos of the exposed, stone-strewn seabed extending at times for hundreds of meters to the shoreline, the authorities have largely been mute.