Aral Sea Disappearance: A Shocking Disaster

“Once the world’s fourth largest lake, the mighty Aral Sea is now in it’s death throes. Starved of it’s lifeblood of the waters of the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya rivers, the sea has been shrinking for the last 40 years.

From the 1930s, the former Soviet Union started building large scale diversion canals to irrigate vast cotton fields in a grand plan to make cotton a great export earner. This was achieved, and even today Uzbekistan is still a large exporter of cotton. But the cost in ecological and human terms have been astronomical.

By 1960, 25 to 50 cubic kilometres of river water was being diverted annually for irrigation, and naturally enough, the shoreline began to recede. The mean sea level dropped 20cm (8″) per year for 10 years, then the drop rate accelerated to 60cm/year in the 70s, then to almost a metre per year in the 80s.

By 1990, as a result of the continuing water diversion and evaporation, the shrinking Aral divided in two and it’s salinity increased from 10 grams per litre to 45. In some parts of the south Aral, salinity tops out at 98 g/litre (2001). Average seawater salinity is 33 g/litre. The once thriving fishing industry has been destroyed along with the fish and most of the flora and fauna. Salt pans and contaminated runoff lakes have appeared, and winters have become harsher and longer, summers hotter and shorter.” UniMaps.com

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it “one of the worst disasters, environmental disasters of  the world” on a visit last week. The shrunken sea has ruined the once-robust fishing economy and left  fishing trawlers stranded in sandy wastelands, leaning over as if they  dropped from the air. The sea’s evaporation has left layers of highly  salted sand, which winds can carry as far away as Scandinavia and Japan,  and which plague local people with health troubles. Ban toured the sea by helicopter as part of a visit to the five  countries of former Soviet Central Asia. His trip included a touchdown  in Muynak, Uzbekistan, a town once on the shore where a pier stretches  eerily over gray desert and camels stand near the hulks of stranded  ships. “On the pier, I wasn’t seeing anything, I could see only a graveyard  of ships,” Ban told reporters after arriving in Nukus, the nearest  sizable city and capital of the autonomous Karakalpak region.

HuffPo

One Response to Aral Sea Disappearance: A Shocking Disaster

  1. Simon Morice says:

    I note that you follow Roz Savage’s blog.

    After the third and final leg rowing the Pacific, Roz has agreed to present a feature length environmental documentary that we have in development for theatrical release. Mankind has a bad history of destroying wetlands for short term gain and is only now beginning to see the real value of them. We aim to begin shooting in mid 2011.

    Coincidentally it is set in Kazakhstan. Although its main concern is the Korgalzhyn Wetlands it will also explore the Aral Sea/Desert and how the Kazakh Government is beginning to re-mediate the northern part at great cost.

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