Atrak River collapse: Ignoring warnings leads to environmental and economic crisis

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The Atrak River, once considered one of Iran’s richest waterways, has now completely dried up after ignoring the warnings of experts. Recent images of the riverbed shared by media and environmentalists highlight the severity of the situation, which is endangering the livelihoods of around 25,000 farmers who depended solely on Atlak for water.

Alarm bells for the Atlak River began ringing about 20 years ago when large-scale dam construction and unchecked exploitation for agricultural and aquaculture purposes took a toll on the river’s vitality. As a result of ignoring warnings from the late 90s, the river will be 80% dry by 2022 and will eventually dry up completely. This is particularly worrying given that the Atrak River was the only source of fresh water in northeastern Iran, providing essential water to many cities and at least 800 villages.

According to reports, residents around the Atlak River are currently facing an acute shortage of tap drinking water. Payam-e-Ma newspaper quoted local experts as saying that failure to curb water withdrawal from the Atlak River is endangering not only the environment but also the local economy.

The effects of Atraq’s drying extend beyond its surroundings. Wetlands once maintained by rivers have turned into centers for pollution and fine dust inflows, potentially affecting neighboring provinces such as Mazandaran and Semnan. The amount of sewage flowing into the Atlak River could worsen the crisis and turn the river into a fetid canal. Despite more than 20 years of warnings, there is little recognition of the severity of the situation.

Environmentalists highlight the intrusion of domestic and industrial wastewater and agricultural toxins as the main problems plaguing the Atlak River. Dams built around rivers for the purpose of managing water resources not only failed to provide enough drinking water to nearby cities and villages, but also caused damage during the devastating floods in March 2019. It was also found that the flood control measures were insufficient.

The Atrak River was once the fifth longest river in Iran, with a total length of 669 km, originating in Hezal Masjed in Razavi Khorasan province. The journey through the plains of Kuchan, Shirvan and Bozhnurd, ultimately reaching the Caspian Sea in the Republic of Turkmenistan, was an important lifeline for the region. But in recent years, the river has not even reached Kutrang, highlighting the tragic consequences of unchecked environmental destruction and mismanagement.

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