Death of the Aral

Introduction

The Aral Sea was an endorheic lake lying between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia. By definition it is a lake contrary to it’s name, translates to ‘Sea of Islands’ as it had around 1000 islands dotting it’s waters. It’s drainage basin flows through Uzbekistan and parts of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and Iran. It was formerly the fourth largest lake in the world with an area of around 70,000 square km. The Lake began shrinking since 1960 and largely dried up by 2010s.

History

The lake began shrinking after the rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet irrigation projects. Kazakhstan was not an independent country then but a state or a ‘ socialist republic’ of then USSR, known as Kazakh SSR. The Soviet Government wanted Cotton to become a major export. They devised many projects diverting the Amu Darya river in the south and the Syr Darya river in the east to irrigate the nearby desert in an attempt to grow cotton, rice and cereals. There were large scale construction of irrigation canals which were poorly built allowing leakage and evaporation. Overtime the lake began to shrink at an alarming rate which didn’t exactly surprise the Soviet engineers as they, in a twisted sense, expected it. The salinity of the lake increased at an alarming pace . By 1987, the lake split into two separate water bodies, the North and South Aral Seas. Uzbekistan gained independence in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union but it’s first leader, Islam Karimov’s government continued the previous Soviet policies destroying the already beleaguered lake and causing an unprecedented ecological disaster.

The Post Soviet era

Uzbekistan gained independence in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union but it’s first leader, Islam Karimov’s government continued the previous Soviet policies destroying the already beleaguered lake. In 2003, South Aral sea further divided into east and west basins. At the same time a plan was put into motion by the Uzbek Government to recover the North Aral Sea by building Dike Kokaral, a dam, which was completed in 2005 and in the next year substantial recovery of sea level was recorded. By 2009, the southeastern lake had disappeared. By 2014, the entire Eastern basin of Aral Sea had dried up, which is now known as the Aralkum desert.

Environment Effects

Due to it’s shrinking countless unfortunate impacts on environment, economy and public health have been recorded. Worsening of the soil, pollution of the lake due to pesticides, death of the local flora and fauna, fish species, spike in cancer, lung diseases, tuberculosis, anaemia due to the locals drinking water and inhalation of contaminated dust which has caused many fatalities. Bustling fishing towns along the shores have now become grim ship graveyards. The town of Aral’sk, the main fishing port is now many kilometres away from the lake and has seen its population decline, most notably the town of moynak on the southern shores of the Aral Sea which used to be Uzbekistan’s biggest port.

Restoration Plans

There have been many restoration strategies planned out for Aral sea’s recovery. There is the Aral Sea basin programs where all five Central Asian countries help in the stabilization and rehabilitation of the local environment. There is also the North Aral sea restoration plan which has so far succeeded in recovery. Kazakhstan has partially revived and replenished it’s parts of the Aral Sea while Uzbekistan isn’t planning on abandoning the Amu Darya to irrigate their number one export cotton and are even moving towards oil exploration in the South Aral seabed.

https://tidsskriftet.no/en/2017/10/global-helse/vanishing-aral-sea-health-consequences-environmental-disaster

https://www.wearewater.org/en-IN/the-aral-sea-the-difficult-return-of-water_322871