Aral Sea

Aral Sea

Overview
The Aral Sea was a lake that lay between Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan , officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a transcontinental country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Ranked as the ninth largest country in the world, it is also the world's largest landlocked country; its territory of is greater than Western Europe...

 (Aktobe and Kyzylorda provinces) in the north and Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region of Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan , officially the Republic of Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country in Central Asia and one of the six independent Turkic states. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south....

, in the south. The name roughly translates as "Sea of Islands", referring to more than 1,534 islands that once dotted its waters.

Formerly one of the four largest lakes in the world with an area of 68000 square kilometres (26,254.9 sq mi), the Aral Sea has been steadily shrinking since the 1960s after the rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 irrigation projects.
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Encyclopedia
The Aral Sea was a lake that lay between Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan , officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a transcontinental country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Ranked as the ninth largest country in the world, it is also the world's largest landlocked country; its territory of is greater than Western Europe...

 (Aktobe and Kyzylorda provinces) in the north and Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region of Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan , officially the Republic of Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country in Central Asia and one of the six independent Turkic states. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south....

, in the south. The name roughly translates as "Sea of Islands", referring to more than 1,534 islands that once dotted its waters.

Formerly one of the four largest lakes in the world with an area of 68000 square kilometres (26,254.9 sq mi), the Aral Sea has been steadily shrinking since the 1960s after the rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 irrigation projects. By 2007 it had declined to 10% of its original size, splitting into four lakes – the North Aral Sea
North Aral Sea
The North Aral Sea is the portion of the former Aral Sea that is fed by the Syr Darya River. It split from the South Aral Sea in 1986 as water levels dropped due to river diversion for agriculture. The poorly built Dike Kokaral intended to contain the North Aral Sea and save its fisheries failed...

and the eastern and western basins of the once far larger South Aral Sea
South Aral Sea
The South Aral Sea is a lake in the basin of the former Aral Sea which formed in 1986 when that body divided in two, due to diversion of river inflow for agriculture...

and one smaller lake between North and South Aral Sea. By 2009, the south-eastern lake had disappeared and the south-western lake retreated to a thin strip at the extreme west of the former southern sea.
The maximum depth of the North Aral Sea is 42 m (138 ft) (as of 2008).

The region's once prosperous fishing industry has been essentially destroyed, bringing unemployment and economic hardship. The Aral Sea region is also heavily polluted, with consequent serious public health problems
Public health problems in the Aral Sea region
After irrigation projects diverted water from the Aral Sea it began to dry up and left behind salts, other minerals and toxins in the soil. These not only contaminated the soil but also were picked up by winds and storms, and traveled to other areas, including over crop lands. This has led to...

. The retreat of the sea has reportedly also caused local climate change, with summers becoming hotter and drier, and winters colder and longer.

There is now an ongoing effort in Kazakhstan to save and replenish the North Aral Sea. As part of this effort, a dam project was completed in 2005; in 2008, the water level in this lake had risen by 24 m (79 ft) from its lowest level in 2007. Salinity has dropped, and fish are again found in sufficient numbers for some fishing to be viable. However, the outlook for the remnants of the South Aral Sea remains bleak.
The shrinking of the Aral Sea has been called "one of the planet's worst environmental disasters".

Early Russian presence


Russian military presence on the Sea of Aral started in 1847, with the founding of Raimsk, which was soon renamed Aralsk, near the mouth of the Syr Darya. Soon, the
Imperial Russian Navy
Imperial Russian Navy
The Imperial Russian Navy refers to the Tsarist fleets prior to the February Revolution.-First Romanovs:Under Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich, construction of the first three-masted ship, actually built within Russia, was completed in 1636. It was built in Balakhna by Danish shipbuilders from Holstein...

 started deploying its vessels on the sea. Owing to the Aral Sea basin not being connected to other bodies of water, the vessels had to be disassembled in Orenburg
Orenburg
Orenburg is a city on the Ural River and the administrative center of Orenburg Oblast, Russia. It lies southeast of Moscow, very close to the border with Kazakhstan. Population: 546,987 ; 549,361 ; Highest point: 154.4 m...

 on the Ural River
Ural River
The Ural or Jayıq/Zhayyq , known as Yaik before 1775, is a river flowing through Russia and Kazakhstan. It arises in the southern Ural Mountains and ends at the Caspian Sea. Its total length is 1,511 mi making it the third longest river in Europe after the Volga and the Danube...

, shipped overland to Aralsk (presumably by a camel caravan
Camel train
A camel train is a series of camels carrying goods or passengers in a group as part of a regular or semi-regular service between two points. Although they rarely travelled faster than the walking speed of a man, camels' ability to handle harsh conditions made camel trains a vital part of...

), and then re-assembled. The first two ships, assembled in 1847, were the two-masted schooners named Nikolai and Mikhail. The former was a warship, the latter a merchant vessel meant to serve for the establishment of the fisheries on the great lake. In 1848, these two vessels surveyed the northern part of the sea. In the same year, a larger warship, the Constantine, was assembled as well. Commanded by Lt. Alexey Butakov (Алексей Бутаков), the Constantine completed the survey of the entire Aral Sea over the next two years.
The exiled Ukrainian poet and painter Taras Shevchenko
Taras Shevchenko
Taras Hryhorovych Shevchenko -Life:Born into a serf family of Hryhoriy Ivanovych Shevchenko and Kateryna Yakymivna Shevchenko in the village of Moryntsi, of Kiev Governorate of the Russian Empire Shevchenko was orphaned at the age of eleven...

 participated in the expedition, and painted a number of sketches of the Aral Sea coast.

For the navigation of 1851, two newly built steamers arrived from Sweden, again via caravan from Orenburg. As the geological surveys had found no coal deposits in the area, the Military Governor-General of Orenburg Vasily Perovsky
Vasily Alekseevich Perovsky
Count Vasily Alekseevich Perovsky was an imperial Russian general and statesman.After studying in Moscow University, he joined the emperor's retinue in 1811...

 ordered "as large as possible supply" of saxaul
Haloxylon ammodendron
The saxaul, black saxaul, sometimes sacsaoul or saksaul , is a plant belonging to the Amaranthaceae.-Description:The saxaul ranges in size from a large shrub to a small tree, 2-8 m tall. It has a brown trunk 4-10 cm in diameter. The wood is heavy and coarse and the bark is spongy and water-soaked...

(a desert shrub, akin to the creosote bush
Creosote bush
Larrea tridentata is known as Creosote bush as a plant, chaparral as a medicinal herb, and as "gobernadora" in Mexico, Spanish for "governess," due to its ability for inhibiting the growth of nearby plants to have more water. In Sonora, it is more commonly called "hediondilla." It is a flowering...

) to be collected in Aralsk for use by the new steamers. Unfortunately, saxaul wood did not turn out a very suitable fuel, and in the later years the Aral Flotilla was provisioned, at substantial cost, by Donets
Donets Basin
Donbas or Donbass , full rarely-used name Donets Basin , is a historical, economic and cultural region of eastern Ukraine. Originally a coal mining area, it has become a heavily industrialised territory suffering from urban decay and industrial pollution.-Geography:Donbas covers three...

 coal.

Irrigation canals


In the early 1960s, the Soviet government decided that the two rivers that fed the Aral Sea, the Amu Darya
Amu Darya
The Amu Darya , also called Oxus and Amu River, is a major river in Central Asia. It is formed by the junction of the Vakhsh and Panj rivers...

 in the south and the Syr Darya
Syr Darya
The Syr Darya , also transliterated Syrdarya or Sirdaryo, is a river in Central Asia, sometimes known as the Jaxartes or Yaxartes from its Ancient Greek name . The Greek name is derived from Old Persian, Yakhsha Arta , a reference to the color of the river's water...

 in the northeast, would be diverted to irrigate the desert, in order to attempt to grow rice, melons, cereals, and cotton.

This was part of the Soviet plan for cotton, or "white gold", to become a major export. This eventually succeeded, and today Uzbekistan is one of the world's largest exporters of cotton.

The construction of irrigation canals began on a large scale in the 1940s. Many of the canals were poorly built, allowing water to leak or evaporate. From the Qaraqum Canal
Qaraqum Canal
The Qaraqum Canal in Turkmenistan is one of the largest irrigation and water supply canals in the world...

, the largest in Central Asia, perhaps 30 to 75% of the water went to waste. Today only 12% of Uzbekistan's irrigation canal length is waterproofed.

There are 47, 750 km of inter-farm irrigation channels in the basin, of which only 28% have anti-filtration linings. Only 77% of farm intakes have flow gauges, and of the 268, 500 km of on-farm channels, only 21% have anti-infiltration linings, which retain on average 15% more water then unlined channels.

By 1960, between 20 and 60 km³ (4.8 and 14.4 cumi) of water were going each year to the land instead of the sea. Most of the sea's water supply had been diverted, and in the 1960s the Aral Sea began to shrink. From 1961 to 1970, the Aral's sea level fell at an average of 20 cm (7.9 in) a year; in the 1970s, the average rate nearly tripled to 50–60 cm (19.7–23.6 ) per year, and by the 1980s it continued to drop, now with a mean of 80–90 cm (31.5–35.4 ) each year. The rate of water usage for irrigation continued to increase: the amount of water taken from the rivers doubled between 1960 and 2000, and cotton production nearly doubled in the same period.

The disappearance of the lake was no surprise to the Soviets; they expected it to happen long before. As early as in 1964, Aleksandr Asarin at the Hydroproject
Hydroproject
Hydroproject is a Russian hydrotechnical design firm. Based in Moscow, it has a number of branches around the country. Its main activities are design of dams, hydroelectric stations, canals, sluices, etc....

 Institute pointed out that the lake was doomed, explaining "It was part of the five-year plans, approved by the council of ministers
Government of the Soviet Union
The Council of Ministers of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was the de jure government comprising the highest executive and administrative body of the Soviet Union from 1946 until 1991....

 and the Politburo
Politburo
Politburo , literally "Political Bureau [of the Central Committee]," is the executive committee for a number of communist political parties.-Marxist-Leninist states:...

. Nobody on a lower level would dare to say a word contradicting those plans, even if it was the fate of the Aral Sea."

The reaction to the predictions varied. Some Soviet experts apparently considered the Aral to be "nature's error", and a Soviet engineer said in 1968 that "it is obvious to everyone that the evaporation of the Aral Sea is inevitable." On the other hand, starting in the 1960s, a large scale project
Northern river reversal
The Northern river reversal or Siberian river reversal was an ambitious project to divert the flow of the Northern rivers in the Soviet Union, which "uselessly" drain into the Arctic Ocean, southwards towards the populated agricultural areas of Central Asia, which lack water.Research and planning...

 was proposed to redirect part of the flow of the rivers of the Ob
Ob River
The Ob River , also Obi, is a major river in western Siberia, Russia and is the world's seventh longest river. It is the westernmost of the three great Siberian rivers that flow into the Arctic Ocean .The Gulf of Ob is the world's longest estuary.-Names:The Ob is known to the Khanty people as the...

 basin to Central Asia over a gigantic canal system. Refilling of the Aral Sea was considered as one of the project's main goals. However, due to its staggering costs and the negative public opinion in Russia proper, the federal authorities abandoned the project by 1986.

From 1960 to 1998, the sea's surface area shrank by approximately 60%, and its volume by 80%. In 1960, the Aral Sea had been the world's fourth-largest lake, with an area of approximately 68000 square kilometres (26,254.9 sq mi) and a volume of 1100 cubic kilometres (263.9 cu mi); by 1998, it had dropped to 28687 square kilometres (11,076.1 sq mi), and eighth-largest. The amount of water it has lost is the equivalent of completely draining Lake Erie
Lake Erie
Lake Erie is the fourth largest lake of the five Great Lakes in North America, and the tenth largest globally. It is the southernmost, shallowest, and smallest by volume of the Great Lakes and therefore also has the shortest average water residence time. It is bounded on the north by the...

 and Lake Ontario
Lake Ontario
Lake Ontario is one of the five Great Lakes of North America. It is bounded on the north and southwest by the Canadian province of Ontario, and on the south by the American state of New York. Ontario, Canada's most populous province, was named for the lake. In the Wyandot language, ontarío means...

. Over the same time period its salinity
Salinity
Salinity is the saltiness or dissolved salt content of a body of water. It is a general term used to describe the levels of different salts such as sodium chloride, magnesium and calcium sulfates, and bicarbonates...

 increased from about 10 g/L
Gram per litre
A gram per liter or litre is a unit of measurement of mass concentration that shows how many grams of a certain substance are present in one litre of a usually liquid or gaseous mixture. It is not an SI unit because it contains the non-SI unit litre...

 to about 45 g/L.
In 1987, the continuing shrinkage split the lake into two separate bodies of water, the North Aral Sea
North Aral Sea
The North Aral Sea is the portion of the former Aral Sea that is fed by the Syr Darya River. It split from the South Aral Sea in 1986 as water levels dropped due to river diversion for agriculture. The poorly built Dike Kokaral intended to contain the North Aral Sea and save its fisheries failed...

 (the Lesser Sea, or Small Aral Sea) and the South Aral Sea
South Aral Sea
The South Aral Sea is a lake in the basin of the former Aral Sea which formed in 1986 when that body divided in two, due to diversion of river inflow for agriculture...

 (the Greater Sea, or Large Aral Sea).

In 1991 Uzbekistan gained independence from the Soviet Union. Craig Murray
Craig Murray
Craig John Murray is a British political activist, former ambassador to Uzbekistan and former Rector of the University of Dundee....

, a UK ambassador to Uzbekistan in 2002, described the independence as a way for Islam Karimov to consolidate his power rather than a move away from a Soviet style economy and philosophy towards exploitation of the land. Murray attributes the shrinkage of the Aral Sea in the 1990s to Karimov's cotton policy. The government maintained a massive irrigation system which Murray described as massively wasteful with most of the water being lost through evaporation before reaching the cotton. Crop rotation
Crop rotation
Crop rotation is the practice of growing a series of dissimilar types of crops in the same area in sequential seasons.Crop rotation confers various benefits to the soil. A traditional element of crop rotation is the replenishment of nitrogen through the use of green manure in sequence with cereals...

 was not used and the depleted soil and monoculture required massive quantities of pesticides and fertilizer. The runoff from the fields washed these chemicals into the shrinking Sea, creating severe pollution and health problems. Murray compared the system to the slavery system in the pre-civil war United States; forced labor was used and profits were siphoned off by the powerful and well connected. Murray contrasts this to Kazakhstan, in which the cotton industry had been privatized.

By summer 2003, the South Aral Sea was vanishing faster than predicted. In the deepest parts of the sea, the bottom waters were saltier than the top, and not mixing. Thus, only the top of the sea was heated in the summer, and it evaporated faster than would otherwise be expected. In 2003, the South Aral further divided into eastern and western basins.

In 2004, the Aral Sea's surface area was only 17160 km² (6,625.5 sq mi), 25% of its original size, and a nearly fivefold increase in salinity had killed most of its natural flora and fauna. By 2007 the sea's area had further shrunk to 10% of its original size, and the salinity of the remains of the South Aral had increased to levels in excess of 100 g/L. (By comparison, the salinity of ordinary seawater
Seawater
Seawater is water from a sea or ocean. On average, seawater in the world's oceans has a salinity of about 3.5% . This means that every kilogram of seawater has approximately of dissolved salts . The average density of seawater at the ocean surface is 1.025 g/ml...

 is typically around 35 g/L; the Dead Sea
Dead Sea
The Dead Sea , also called the Salt Sea, is a salt lake bordering Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west. Its surface and shores are below sea level, the lowest elevation on the Earth's surface. The Dead Sea is deep, the deepest hypersaline lake in the world...

's salinity varies between 300 and 350 g/L.) The decline of the North Aral has now been partially reversed following construction of a dam (see below) but the remnants of the South Aral continue to disappear and its drastic shrinkage has created the Aralkum, a desert on the former lake bed.

There is an inflow of groundwater discharge into the South Aral Sea, but it will not in itself be able to stop the desiccation. This inflow of about 4 cubic kilometre (0.959651034417147 cu mi) per year is larger than previously estimated. This groundwater originates in the Pamirs and Tian Shan
Tian Shan
The Tian Shan , also spelled Tien Shan, is a large mountain system located in Central Asia. The highest peak in the Tian Shan is Victory Peak , ....

 mountains and finds its way through geological layers to a fracture zone at the bottom of the Aral.

Impact on environment, economy and public health




The ecosystem
Ecosystem
An ecosystem is a biological environment consisting of all the organisms living in a particular area, as well as all the nonliving , physical components of the environment with which the organisms interact, such as air, soil, water and sunlight....

 of the Aral Sea and the river delta
River delta
A delta is a landform that is formed at the mouth of a river where that river flows into an ocean, sea, estuary, lake, reservoir, flat arid area, or another river. Deltas are formed from the deposition of the sediment carried by the river as the flow leaves the mouth of the river...

s feeding into it has been nearly destroyed, not least because of the much higher salinity. The receding sea has left huge plains covered with salt and toxic chemicals – the results of weapons testing, industrial projects, pesticides and fertilizer runoff – which are picked up and carried away by the wind as toxic dust and spread to the surrounding area. The land around the Aral Sea is heavily polluted and the people living in the area are suffering from a lack of fresh water and health problems
Public health problems in the Aral Sea region
After irrigation projects diverted water from the Aral Sea it began to dry up and left behind salts, other minerals and toxins in the soil. These not only contaminated the soil but also were picked up by winds and storms, and traveled to other areas, including over crop lands. This has led to...

, including high rates of certain forms of cancer and lung diseases. Respiratory illnesses including tuberculosis
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

 (most of which is drug resistant) and cancer, digestive disorders, anaemia, and infectious diseases are common ailments in the region. Liver, kidney and eye problems can also be attributed to the toxic dust storms. Health concerns associated with the region are a cause for an unusually high fatality rate amongst vulnerable parts of the population. There is a high child mortality rate of 75 in every 1,000 newborns and maternity death of 12 in every 1,000 women. Crops in the region are destroyed by salt being deposited onto the land. Vast salt plains exposed by the shrinking Aral have produced dust storm
Dust storm
A dust / sand storm is a meteorological phenomenon common in arid and semi-arid regions. Dust storms arise when a gust front or other strong wind blows loose sand and dirt from a dry surface. Particles are transported by saltation and suspension, causing soil to move from one place and deposition...

s, making regional winters colder and summers hotter.

The Aral Sea fishing industry, which in its heyday had employed some 40,000 and reportedly produced one-sixth of the Soviet Union's entire fish catch, has been devastated, and former fishing towns along the original shores have become ship graveyard
Ship graveyard
A ship graveyard or ship cemetery is a location where the hulls of scrapped ships are left to decay and disintegrate, or left in reserve...

s. The town of Moynaq in Uzbekistan had a thriving harbor and fishing industry that employed approximately 30,000 people; now it lies miles from the shore. Fishing boats lie scattered on the dry land that was once covered by water; many have been there for 20 years. The only significant fishing company left in the area has its fish shipped from the Baltic Sea
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

, thousands of kilometers away.

Also destroyed is the muskrat
Muskrat
The muskrat , the only species in genus Ondatra, is a medium-sized semi-aquatic rodent native to North America, and introduced in parts of Europe, Asia, and South America. The muskrat is found in wetlands and is a very successful animal over a wide range of climates and habitats...

 trapping industry in the deltas of Amu Darya and Syr Darya, which used to yield as much as 500,000 muskrat pelts a year.

The overall cost of the damage to the region has been estimated at 35-40 billion roubles (£800 million).

Possible environmental solutions


Many different solutions to the different problems have been suggested over the years, varying in feasibility and cost, including the following:
  • Improving the quality of irrigation
    Irrigation
    Irrigation may be defined as the science of artificial application of water to the land or soil. It is used to assist in the growing of agricultural crops, maintenance of landscapes, and revegetation of disturbed soils in dry areas and during periods of inadequate rainfall...

     canals;
  • Installing desalination
    Desalination
    Desalination, desalinization, or desalinisation refers to any of several processes that remove some amount of salt and other minerals from saline water...

     plants;
  • Charging farmers to use the water from the rivers;
  • Using alternative cotton
    Cotton
    Cotton is a soft, fluffy staple fiber that grows in a boll, or protective capsule, around the seeds of cotton plants of the genus Gossypium. The fiber is almost pure cellulose. The botanical purpose of cotton fiber is to aid in seed dispersal....

     species that require less water;
  • Using fewer chemicals on the cotton;
  • Moving farming away from cotton;
  • Installing dams to fill the Aral Sea;
  • Redirecting water
    Northern river reversal
    The Northern river reversal or Siberian river reversal was an ambitious project to divert the flow of the Northern rivers in the Soviet Union, which "uselessly" drain into the Arctic Ocean, southwards towards the populated agricultural areas of Central Asia, which lack water.Research and planning...

     from the Volga
    Volga River
    The Volga is the largest river in Europe in terms of length, discharge, and watershed. It flows through central Russia, and is widely viewed as the national river of Russia. Out of the twenty largest cities of Russia, eleven, including the capital Moscow, are situated in the Volga's drainage...

    , Ob
    Ob River
    The Ob River , also Obi, is a major river in western Siberia, Russia and is the world's seventh longest river. It is the westernmost of the three great Siberian rivers that flow into the Arctic Ocean .The Gulf of Ob is the world's longest estuary.-Names:The Ob is known to the Khanty people as the...

     and Irtysh
    Irtysh
    The Irtysh River is a river in Siberia and is the chief tributary of the Ob River. Its name means White River. Irtysh's main affluent is the Tobol River...

     rivers. This would restore the Aral Sea to its former size in 20–30 years at a cost of US$30–50 billion;
  • Pumping sea water into the Aral Sea from the Caspian Sea
    Caspian Sea
    The Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water on Earth by area, variously classed as the world's largest lake or a full-fledged sea. The sea has a surface area of and a volume of...

     via a pipeline, and diluting with freshwater from local catchment areas.


In January 1994, the countries of Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan , officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a transcontinental country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Ranked as the ninth largest country in the world, it is also the world's largest landlocked country; its territory of is greater than Western Europe...

, Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan , officially the Republic of Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country in Central Asia and one of the six independent Turkic states. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south....

, Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan , formerly also known as Turkmenia is one of the Turkic states in Central Asia. Until 1991, it was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic . Turkmenistan is one of the six independent Turkic states...

, Tajikistan
Tajikistan
Tajikistan , officially the Republic of Tajikistan , is a mountainous landlocked country in Central Asia. Afghanistan borders it to the south, Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north, and China to the east....

 and Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan , officially the Kyrgyz Republic is one of the world's six independent Turkic states . Located in Central Asia, landlocked and mountainous, Kyrgyzstan is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the southwest and China to the east...

 signed a deal to pledge 1% of their budgets to helping the sea recover.

In March 2000 UNESCO presented their Water-related vision for the Aral Sea basin for the year 2025 at the second World Water Forum in The Hague. This document was criticized for setting unrealistic goals, and also for giving insufficient attention to the interests of the area immediately around the former lakesite, implicitly giving up on the Aral Sea and the people living on the Uzbek side of the lake.

By 2006, the World Bank's restoration projects, especially in the North Aral, were giving rise to some unexpected, tentative relief in what had been an extremely pessimistic picture.

SDPI-Islamabad Initiative on Saving and Rehabilitation of Aral Sea


An Islamabad
Islamabad
Islamabad is the capital of Pakistan and the tenth largest city in the country. Located within the Islamabad Capital Territory , the population of the city has grown from 100,000 in 1951 to 1.7 million in 2011...

-based think-tank, SDPI (Sustainable Development Policy Institute http://www.sdpi.org/) has established a working group on saving the Aral Sea which will focus only on transboundary water management and the environmental, economic and energy issues of Central Asia. Based in Pakistan, SDPI performs research on sustainable development issues and provides information for concerned individuals and institutions. The mandate of the working group is to evaluate the shrinking of the Aral Sea , a phenomenon to have simultaneous impacts on the region’s economic and environmental stability. The ecological consequences of the shrinking Aral Sea will not respect any political boundaries and are bound to adversely affect the region.

Invoking the issue of Aral Sea is an endeavor to highlight the need for equitable distribution of water resources based on international laws and best practices.

Additionally, the urgent need to rehabilitate/refill the Aral Sea is crucial for the stabilization of the regional and global climate in addition to maintaining peace and security in Central Asia.

The need for a working group on the subject was also reinforced after the devastating flood in Pakistan when A westerly weather system collided with the monsoon weather system during the last week of July 2010 causing unprecedented flash floods in Pakistan. The technical part of the Working Group will make assessments of the state of environment in Central Asia and plausible impacts on climate of Pakistan and region as whole.

Aral Sea Basin Program


The future of the Aral Sea, and the responsibility for its survival are now in the hands of the five countries; Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. In 1994 they adopted the ASBP (Aral Sea Basin Program). The Program’s four objectives are:
  • To stabilize the environment of the Aral Sea Basin;
  • To rehabilitate the disaster area around the sea;
  • To improve the management of the international waters of the Aral Sea Basin;
  • To build the capacity of institutions at the regional and national level to advance

the program’s aims.

ASBP: Phases One and Two


The first phase of the plan effectively began with the first involvement from the World Bank in 1992, and was in operation until 1997. It was ineffectual for a number of reasons, mainly because it was focused on improving directly the land around the Aral Sea, whilst not intervening in the water usage upstream. There was considerable concern amongst the Central Asian governments, who realised the importance of the Aral Sea in the eco-system and the economy of Central Asia, and they were prepared to cooperate but they found it difficult implementing the procedures of the plan.

This is due in part to a lack of co-operation between the effected people. The water flowing into the Aral Sea has long been considered an important commodity, and trade agreements have been made to supply the downstream communities with water in the spring and summer months for irrigation. In return, they supply the upstream countries with fuel during the winter, instead of storing water during the warm months for hydroelectric purposes in winter. However there are very few legal obligations binding these contracts, particularly on an international stage.

Phase Two of the Aral Sea Basin Program followed in 1998 and ran for five years. The main shortcomings of phase 2 were due to its lack of integration with the local communities involved. The scheme was drawn up by the World Bank, government representatives and various technical experts, without consulting those who would be affected. An example of this was the public awareness initiatives, which were seen as propagandist attempts by people with little care or understanding of their situation. These failures have led to the introduction of a new plan, funded by a number of institutions including the five countries involved and the World Bank.

ASBP: Phase Three


In 1997, a new plan was conceived which would continue with the previous restoration efforts of the Aral Sea. The main aims of this phase are to improve the irrigation systems currently in place, whilst targeting water management at a local level. The largest project in this phase is the North Aral Sea Project, a direct effort to recover the Northern region of the Aral Sea. The North Aral Sea Project’s main initiative is the construction of a dam across the Berg Strait, a deep channel which connects the Northern Aral Sea to the Southern Aral Sea. The Kok-Aral Dam is eight miles long and has capacity for over 29 cubic kilometres of water to be stored in the North Aral Sea, whilst allowing excess to overflow into the South Aral Sea.

North Aral Sea restoration work



Work is being done to restore in part the North Aral Sea. Irrigation works on the Syr Darya have been repaired and improved to increase its water flow, and in October 2003, the Kazakh government announced a plan to build Dike Kokaral
Dike Kokaral
Dike Kokaral is a levee across a narrow stretch of the Aral Sea, splitting off the North Aral Sea from the much larger South Aral Sea . Work was completed in August 2005....

, a concrete dam separating the two halves of the Aral Sea. Work on this dam was completed in August 2005; since then the water level of the North Aral has risen, and its salinity has decreased. As of 2006, some recovery of sea level has been recorded, sooner than expected. "The dam has caused the small Aral's sea level to rise swiftly to 38 m (125 ft), from a low of less than 30 m (98 ft), with 42 m (138 ft) considered the level of viability." Economically significant stocks of fish have returned, and observers who had written off the North Aral Sea as an environmental disaster were surprised by unexpected reports that in 2006 its returning waters were already partly reviving the fishing industry and producing catches for export as far as Ukraine. The restoration reportedly gave rise to long absent rain clouds and possible microclimate changes, bringing tentative hope to an agricultural sector swallowed by a regional dustbowl
Dust storm
A dust / sand storm is a meteorological phenomenon common in arid and semi-arid regions. Dust storms arise when a gust front or other strong wind blows loose sand and dirt from a dry surface. Particles are transported by saltation and suspension, causing soil to move from one place and deposition...

, and some expansion of the shrunken sea. "The sea, which had receded almost 100 km (62.1 mi) south of the port-city of Aral
Aral
Aral, also known as Aralsk or Aral'sk, is a small city in south-western Kazakhstan, located in the oblast of Kyzylorda. It serves as the administrative center of Aral District. Population roughly 39,000...

, is now a mere 25 km (15.5 mi) away." The Kazakh Foreign Ministry stated that “The North Aral Sea's surface increased from 2550 square kilometres (984.6 sq mi) in 2003 to 3300 square kilometres (1,274.1 sq mi) in 2008. The sea's depth increased from 30 meters (98 ft) in 2003 to 42 meters (138 ft) in 2008.” Now, a second dam is to be built based on a World Bank loan to Kazakhstan, with the start of construction slated for 2009, to further expand the shrunken Northern Aral, eventually reducing the distance to Aralsk to only 6 km (3.7 mi). Then, it was planned to build a canal spanning the last 6 km, to reconnect the withered former port of Aralsk with the sea.

Future of South Aral Sea


The South Aral Sea, which lies in poorer Uzbekistan, was largely abandoned to its fate. Only excess water from the North Aral Sea is now periodically allowed to flow into the largely dried-up Southern Aral Sea through a sluice
Sluice
A sluice is a water channel that is controlled at its head by a gate . For example, a millrace is a sluice that channels water toward a water mill...

 in the dike. Discussions had been held on recreating a channel between the somewhat improved North and the desiccated South, along with uncertain wetland restoration plans throughout the region, but political will is lacking. Uzbekistan shows no interest in abandoning the Amu Darya river as an abundant source of cotton irrigation, and instead is moving toward oil exploration in the drying South Aral seabed. Attempts to mitigate the effects of desertification
Desertification
Desertification is the degradation of land in drylands. Caused by a variety of factors, such as climate change and human activities, desertification is one of the most significant global environmental problems.-Definitions:...

 include planting vegetation in the newly exposed seabed; however, intermittent flooding of the eastern basin is likely to prove problematic for any development. Redirecting what little flow there is from Amu Darya to the western basin may salvage fisheries there while relieving the flooding of the eastern basin.

Institutional bodies


The Interstate Commission for Water Coordination of Central Asia (ICWC) was formed on February 18, 1992 formally uniting five Central Asian countries in the hopes of solving environmental as well as socio-economic problems in the Aral Sea region. These five states are the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and the Republic of Uzbekistan. The River Basin Organizations (the BVO’s) of the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers were institutions called upon by the ICWC to help manage water resources. According to the ICWC the main objectives of the body are:
  • River basin management;
  • Non-conflict water allocation;
  • Organization of water conservation on transboundary water courses;
  • Interaction with hydro meteorological services of the countries on flow forecast and account;
  • Introduction of automation into head structures;
  • Regular work on ICWC and its bodies activity advancement;
  • Interstate Agreements preparation;
  • International relations;
  • Scientific researches;
  • Training.


The International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS) was developed on March 23, 1993 by the ICWC to raise funds for the projects under Aral Sea Basin Programs. The IFAS was meant to finance programs to save the sea and improve on environmental issues associated with the basin’s drying. This program has had some success with joint summits of the countries involved and finding funding from the World Bank, to implement projects; however, it faces many challenges, such as enforcement and slowing progress.

Vozrozhdeniya


Vozrozhdeniya, also known as "Rebirth Island", is a former island of the Aral Sea or South Aral Sea
South Aral Sea
The South Aral Sea is a lake in the basin of the former Aral Sea which formed in 1986 when that body divided in two, due to diversion of river inflow for agriculture...

. Due to the ongoing shrinkage of the Aral, it became first a peninsula
Peninsula
A peninsula is a piece of land that is bordered by water on three sides but connected to mainland. In many Germanic and Celtic languages and also in Baltic, Slavic and Hungarian, peninsulas are called "half-islands"....

 in mid-2001 and finally part of the mainland
Mainland
Mainland is a name given to a large landmass in a region , or to the largest of a group of islands in an archipelago. Sometimes its residents are called "Mainlanders"...

. Since the disappearance of the Southeast Aral in 2008, Vozrozhdeniya effectively no longer exists as a distinct geographical feature. The area is now shared by Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan , officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a transcontinental country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Ranked as the ninth largest country in the world, it is also the world's largest landlocked country; its territory of is greater than Western Europe...

 and Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan , officially the Republic of Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country in Central Asia and one of the six independent Turkic states. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south....

.

In 1948, a top-secret Soviet
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 bioweapons laboratory was established on the island in the center of the Aral Sea which is now disputed territory between Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan , officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a transcontinental country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Ranked as the ninth largest country in the world, it is also the world's largest landlocked country; its territory of is greater than Western Europe...

 and Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan , officially the Republic of Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country in Central Asia and one of the six independent Turkic states. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south....

. The exact history, functions and current status of this facility have not yet been disclosed. The base was abandoned in 1992 following the disintegration of the Soviet Union the previous year. Scientific expeditions proved that this had been a site for production, testing and later dumping of pathogenic weapons. In 2002, through a project organized by the United States and with Uzbekistan's assistance, 10 anthrax
Bacillus anthracis
Bacillus anthracis is the pathogen of the Anthrax acute disease. It is a Gram-positive, spore-forming, rod-shaped bacterium, with a width of 1-1.2µm and a length of 3-5µm. It can be grown in an ordinary nutrient medium under aerobic or anaerobic conditions.It is one of few bacteria known to...

 burial sites were decontaminated. According to the Kazakh Scientific Center for Quarantine and Zoonotic Infections, all burial sites of anthrax were decontaminated.

Oil and gas exploration


Ergash Shaismatov
Ergash Shaismatov
Ergash Rahmatullayevich Shoismatov is the current Deputy Prime Minister of Uzbekistan.On August 30, 2006 Shoismatov announced that the Uzbek government and an international consortium consisting of state-run Uzbekneftegaz, LUKoil Overseas, Petronas, Korea National Oil Corporation, and China...

, the Deputy Prime Minister of Uzbekistan
Prime Minister of Uzbekistan
According to the Constitution of Uzbekistan, the Prime Minister of Uzbekistan and the deputy ministers are appointed by the President.-Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars:*Fayzulla Khodzhayev...

, announced on August 30, 2006, that the Uzbek government and an international consortium consisting of state-run Uzbekneftegaz
Uzbekneftegaz
Uzbekneftegaz ) is a state-owned holding company of Uzbekistan's oil and gas industry.-History:Uzbekneftegaz was established in 1992...

, LUKoil Overseas
LUKoil
Lukoil/LUKoil ; ) is Russia's second largest oil company and its second largest producer of oil. In 2009, the company produced 97.615 million tons of oil; ....

, Petronas
Petronas
PETRONAS, short for Petroliam Nasional Berhad, is a Malaysian oil and gas company that was founded on August 17, 1974. Wholly owned by the Government of Malaysia, the corporation is vested with the entire oil and gas resources in Malaysia and is entrusted with the responsibility of developing and...

, Korea National Oil Corporation
Korea National Oil Corporation
Korea National Oil Corporation is the national oil and gas company of South Korea and one of the most important industrial companies in the country...

, and China National Petroleum Corporation
China National Petroleum Corporation
China National Petroleum Corporation is a state-owned fuel-producing corporation and the largest integrated oil and gas company in the People's Republic of China...

 signed a production sharing agreement to explore and develop oil and gas fields in the Aral Sea, saying, "The Aral Sea is largely unknown, but it holds a lot of promise in terms of finding oil and gas. There is risk, of course, but we believe in the success of this unique project." The consortium was created in September 2005.

As of June 1, 2010, 500,000 cubic meters of gas had been extracted from the region at a depth of 3 km.

Movies


The plight of the Aral coast was portrayed in the 1989 film, Psy ("Dogs"), by Soviet director Dmitriy Svetozarov. The film was shot on location in an actual ghost town
Ghost town
A ghost town is an abandoned town or city. A town often becomes a ghost town because the economic activity that supported it has failed, or due to natural or human-caused disasters such as floods, government actions, uncontrolled lawlessness, war, or nuclear disasters...

, showing scenes of abandoned buildings and scattered vessels.

In 2000, the MirrorMundo foundation produced a documentary film called Delta Blues
Delta Blues (documentary film)
Delta Blues is a documentary film shot in 2000. The movie deals with the environmental problems emanating from the drying up of the Aral Sea, and the impact this has on political relationships in the Central Asian region...

about the problems arising from the drying up of the sea.

In June 2007, BBC World
BBC World
BBC World News is the BBC's international news and current affairs television channel. It has the largest audience of any BBC channel in the world...

 broadcast a documentary
Documentary film
Documentary films constitute a broad category of nonfictional motion pictures intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction or maintaining a historical record...

 called Back From The Brink? made by Borna Alikhani and Guy Creasey that showed some of the changes in the region since the introduction of the Aklak Dam.

Literature



See also

  • Draining of the Mesopotamian Marshes - a similar water diversion project in Iraq
  • The Sistan Basin
    Sistan Basin
    The Sistan Basin is an inland endorheic basin encompassing large parts of southwestern Afghanistan and southeastern Iran, one of the driest regions in the world and an area subjected to prolonged droughts...

     - a large wetland ecosystem in Nimroz Province of Afghanistan
    Afghanistan
    Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

     and Sistan wa Baluchistan Province of Iran
    Iran
    Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

     that is on the verge of collapse, further aggravating the violence in Afghanistan.
  • The Sudd
    Sudd
    The Sudd , also known as the Bahr al Jabal, As Sudd or Al Sudd, is a vast swamp in South Sudan, formed by the White Nile. The word “sudd” is derived from the Arabic word “sadd”, meaning “block.” The term has come to refer to any large solid floating vegetation island or mat...

     - a large marshland in Africa, site of another planned large-scale draining project

Other lakes suffering from drying because of irrigation projects

  • Dead Sea
    Dead Sea
    The Dead Sea , also called the Salt Sea, is a salt lake bordering Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west. Its surface and shores are below sea level, the lowest elevation on the Earth's surface. The Dead Sea is deep, the deepest hypersaline lake in the world...

  • Lake Chad
    Lake Chad
    Lake Chad is a historically large, shallow, endorheic lake in Africa, whose size has varied over the centuries. According to the Global Resource Information Database of the United Nations Environment Programme, it shrank as much as 95% from about 1963 to 1998; yet it also states that "the 2007 ...

  • Lake Mono
  • Salton Sea
    Salton Sea
    The Salton Sea is a shallow, saline, endorheic rift lake located directly on the San Andreas Fault, predominantly in California's Imperial Valley. The lake occupies the lowest elevations of the Salton Sink in the Colorado Desert of Imperial and Riverside counties in Southern California. Like Death...

  • Tulare Lake
    Tulare Lake
    Tulare Lake, named Laguna de Tache by the Spanish, is a fresh-water dry lake with residual wetlands and marshes in southern San Joaquin Valley, California...

  • Urmia Lake

External links