Environmental Challenges and Conservation in the Lut Desert

By Somayeh Zahabnazouri, IUCN CEM Young Professional.

The Lut Desert was the first natural heritage site in Iran to be inscribed by UNESCO in 2015. This region has been suffering from a too harsh environmental condition due to its hot, dry climate, lack of fresh water and food supply. As a result, the ecosystem is susceptible to even the slightest environmental variations. Despite this, there are abundant remains of ancient civilizations around the edge of the Lut desert. Shahdad is the biggest city on the western edge of the Lut Desert, and several villages and caravansary are dispersed in the desert, but many of them are now abandoned or were forced to relocate due to change in environment.

Recently the most significant environmental change in the Lut desert has been the formation of an ephemeral lake in the northern part of the Kalut region. It was created due to an episode of extremely high precipitation in the Lut basin that caused flash floods that also destroyed some human infrastructure as well, including about 50 kilometres of road between Shahdad and Nehbandan. This environmental change created new ecosystem conditions and presented new challenges for the region. Migrating birds come to the lake for food and rest, but high evaporation and summer drought causes high salinity conditions in the lake that even increases the thirst of the birds and even their death. Some others are killed during the summer storms of the Lut Desert.

Photographs of the ephemeral lake in the Kalut region in northern part of the Lut desert in Shahdad and birds that lose their life in high salinity water in the lake because of high evaporation in the Lut desert © Mr Mobin Ebrahimi.

Several issues primarily drive human footprint in Lut Desert; chief among these is the overuse of water resources. Extensive cultivation has lowered the regional water table and has resulted in the desiccation and death of the plants which stabilize the nebkha.  Destruction of these natural windbreakers resulted in increased susceptibility to wind erosion and therefore, more sandstorms. This reduces the resources needed by the wild inhabitants of the region. The decreasing water table has even dried the ancient Qanats forcing significant land-use change. In addition, increasing tourism (with camping, off-road activities, film production, and pollution) also threatens the Lut Desert, and result in even greater ecological destruction.

Pollution in the form of plastics and other garbage is found in many parts of the Lut Desert, causing significant destruction to the ecosystem as it remains there for a long time due to the dry climate. Most of this pollution is left behind by irresponsible visitors, but also in many cases by the local population. Unfortunately, there is no integrated waste management system in the region.

Therefore, we need to develop a new and practical approach to reducing our impact upon the fragile Lut Desert environment. In order to accomplish this, the supporters of the Lut Desert NGO works with the goal of conservation and sustainable development of its unique environment. In order to accomplish these tasks, we have planned several activities in the Lut Desert. These include:

  • Detailed description of the environment;
  • Intensive research detailing the unique relationships within this environment;
  • Informing the public through the publication of general articles, detailed research studies, information brochures, and the launching of a website that will present and exchange information about the Lut Desert and about ways its conservation can be accomplished;
  • Organize and participate in exhibitions, seminars, meetings, sessions, and conferences to present conservation measures that have been undertaken, and its achievements. These will be undertaken with the coordination and cooperation of relevant government agencies;
  • Establish communication, coordination and cooperation with key governmental and non-governmental organizations for the protection and enforcement of the rules of the Desert Lut UNESCO World Heritage Site;
  • Encourage local volunteerism in this program, and provide the necessary training at all levels of society.  And in addition, develop local organizational support for the conservation and protection, and welfare of the Lut Desert;
  • Organize interpretive, educational, but low impact events in the Lut Desert;
  • Establish committees that include both scientists, local officials and members of the public to meet these objectives;
  • Conduct periodic cleanup and conservation-oriented trips;
  • Encourage sustainable tourism in the Lut Desert;
  • Suggest and establish governmental reforms and for the official protection and conservation of the Lut Desert.

Ms Somayeh Zahabnazouri is currently a PhD Graduate in Physical Geography at University of Tehran.

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