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Unprecedented drought in Iran dries out three major lagoons

TEHRAN, Iran, July 26, 2000 (AFP) - Three important lakes in the northwestern region of Mahabad have dried up as a result of this year's unprecedented widespread drought, the official IRNA news agency reported Wednesday.

"The drying of the Qoupi-Baba'ali, Kaniberazan, and Dargesangi lakes which cover an area 320 hectares situated in the Mahabad region, has endangered the life of many migratory and endemic birds," said Jafar Sediqi, local director of the environment-protection organisation cited by IRNA.

According to the official, the "drought has delayed the egg-laying of birds in the region," which include ducks, swans, flamingos,herons, and gray geese.

Iran, a semi-arid country, has been hit hard during the past two years by an unprecedented drought which has affected 18 of its 28 provinces, and the government has estimated that 12 million people in both rural and urban areas are suffering shortages of drinking water.

In May, Iran said it was ready to accept foreign aid for only the second time since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The interior ministry has described this year's drought as an "unprecedented disaster" and Iranian television has shown footage from some of the worst affected regions, with dead camels lying on the roads.

Attempts are being made to transfer stock to less-affected areas, but cattle owners have started panic selling of their animals.

On Monday, an official from Iran's environment-protection organisation in the southern provincial capital of Shiraz announced that the drought has dried up Iran's huge southern Bakhtegan lake, and state television broadcast pictures of what it called the "Bakhtegan desert."

A United Nation's mission began evaluating the damage Monday, that Tehran estimates to be some 1.7 billion dollars.