“Several dozen underwater wells are being drilled and pumped out in the Aral. Of course, the water of those wells does not fill the southern part of the Aral Sea, but it serves to preserve the nature of the land”
We all know In 2022, Russia is devastating one of the biggest countries in Europe. Leaving people homeless, children killed and women raped. Millions of citizens have escaped to other counties. But did you know, over a half century ago Moscow/Kremlin has also murdered one of the biggest seas On Earth?
Aral Sea is the largest climate disaster that nobody’s mentioning and its hurting thousands and millions of lives.
In 1950, Uzbekistan a double land locked country in Central Asia had it’s forth biggest freshwater lake in the world just behind the Caspian sea, Lake Superior and Lake Victoria. It used to be absolutely enormous. it was particularly abundant in fish. It provided one-sixth of all the fish in the USSR and the fish was also exported worldwide. However during the Soviet times, Moscow authorities decided to cut off the main feeder rivers that flowed into the Aral Sea and use the water for farming and irrigation, especially to boost cotton manufacturing. This human intervention although caused Uzbekistan become the world’s fourth largest manufacturer of cotton in just over 20 years, it created catastrophic environmental disasters in other various ways, paying the price for this success. The Aral Sea had no more water flowing in and it started to disappear. Eventually tons of liters of water evaporated. Meanwhile, the ports turned useless. The ships didn’t move and the sea became completely desiccated. What used to be 7,000 cubic kilometers, the Aral Sea has shrunk a tenth of its original size. It influenced human consumption very badly. A Large number of the population lost access to drinking water. The remaining rest of the water was highly contemplated by fertilizers and pesticides used in cotton farming.
“Currently, the use of water-saving technologies is widespread in Uzbekistan. This saves water without reducing the available crop areas and crop species. Thus, there is no need to reduce the cotton areas”, Shukhrat Tenglashev says aswering to the question about reducing highly water consuming cotton lands in the country.
Fishing was ruined and every fish left in that remaining part of the sea has become dead because the water turned too saline. More than thirty types of fish ranging from bream to carp and other freshwater fish used to live in the Aral Sea. Now there is only fish bones can be found. Animals disappeared along with the fish. Millions of locals who live in the region lost their fishing and farming jobs. They had to relocate somewhere else later.
Worst of all, when water disappeared, the salt was left at the bottom and it got picked up by the winds to be carried hundreds and thousands of kilometers causing sand storms in the rest of the country. Increased soil salinity caused the health and living conditions of the population dramatically go down the drain. Children are still dying of breathing the salt and minerals existing in the dust. People become sick with diseases such as anemia, chronic bronchitis, tuberculosis, asthma and so on. There are even documented cases of liver and throat cancer.
Salt storms ruined half of farmers’ crop in the surrounding areas making agriculture no longer feasible. Salt has reached mountain tops in countries such as Kyrgyzstan resulting in melting of a large masses of ice which had already begun due to climate warming. In 21st century, modern day Uzbekistan after the Soviet Russia has to suffer the consequences . Therefore, the government has declared it a national tragedy.
“Efforts are being made to improve the living standards of the population in the settlements located in the Aral Sea region. I think that life around the Aral Sea will continue to improve, and the established forests will change the ecological situation for the better and contribute to the reproduction and development of water resources and wildlife”, says Shakhnoza Zafari, an environmentalist under “Green Aral Sea” project, strongly hoping for the future of the Aral area.
The obvious question is: will the water return?
“Exploring the issue of returning the southern part of the Aral Sea requires a great deal of scientific research and studies. At the initiative of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, work is underway to build a large green area on the dried bottom of the Aral Sea. For this purpose, funds have been allocated from the budget of the Republic”, says UNDP Uzbekistan Country Office member Shukhrat Tenglashev.
Recovering the entire sea water requires the collaboration of all Central Asian republics as two feeder Rivers: Amu Darya and Syr Darya cross all of them. However, for years the poor political conditions and water competition among Central Asian countries as they fought for control over their own territorial resources, has created the minimum conditions to succeed in building up water management projects.
“There are speculations and unfounded proposals among the population to partially fill the Aral Sea by digging a canal from the Caspian Sea or diverting water from a number of Russian rivers. In the southern part of the Sea, several dozen underwater wells are being drilled and pumped out. Of course, the water of those wells does not fill the southern part of the Aral Sea, but it serves to preserve the nature of the land. To preserve the flora and fauna”, Tenglashev Shukhrat also mentions.
First Attempts to get back the Aral Sea started in 1996 by the United Nations, in cooperation with the World Bank. In 2005, after so many years of studies, a 13-kilometer long Kok Aral dam was completed under the Northern Aral Sea project. It helped to save the North Aral Sea on the border of Kazakhstan.
At present, on the initiative of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the INTERNATIONAL GREEN ARAL SEA INNOVATION CENTER UNDER THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF UZBEKISTAN has been established on the southern part. A number of measures are being taken to strengthen sand avalanches in the region and reduce the release of toxic aerosol dust into the air from the dry part of the Aral Sea.
“The established forests will create fertile pastures in 10-15 years, and livestock breeding will develop”, says Shakhnoza Zafari, young and very hopeful environmentalist.
Also, In Uzbekistan, the campaign to save the Aral Sea is in full swing, with a contribution of people from young to senior ages. The “My garden in the Aral Sea” agro and ecotourism project is being implemented to increase the number of tourists visiting the Aral Sea region. Moreover, a program to adapt to climate change and mitigate its consequences for the Aral Sea Basin, funded by the International Development Association, is being implemented. At the dried bottom of Aral, forests are being established on the basis of innovative approaches on an area of 100,000 hectares. In order to develop industry in the Aral Sea region, many projects are being developed.
“Currently, the economy of the districts and cities along the island is developing well. This is leading to an improvement in the living conditions of the population living in the area”, Zafar Ibragomov, Aral Sea Crowdfunding Campaign manager said.
However, the Aral Sea one of the biggest shocking example of water mismanagement disasters created by human activities, is still far away from its recovery. But, a joint international actions can help alleviate the consequences and return the water to some extent.