The Shrinking of Aral Sea

                             The Aral Sea was the 4th largest lake in the world before 1960 with 26.300 sq miles, when the rivers that were making it, were diverted by the Soviet Union.
    The translation of the name “Aral Sea” is the Sea of Islands because the lake is situated between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and it had over 1000 islands that once were dotting the lake.
    The two rivers the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya fed by the snowmelt from the mountains and precipitations were diverted to transform the desert of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, into cotton farms and other crop farms like cereals, rice, and melons.


    The construction of the irrigation canal started in 1940, but it was poorly constructed allowing the water to leak and evaporate.


    The Aral Sea was an endorheic lake, which is a lake formed by the accumulation of water from rain, melting snow or ice ending up in a lower elevation point. An endorheic lake allows no flow to other external bodies of water and can only disappear by evaporation because the bottom of the lake it’s occupied by a salted ground.


    By 1960, 14.4 mi qu of water were going to the land instead of the lake.
    From 1961 to 1970 the Aral Sea level fell an average of 7.9 in a year
    In 1970, the number tripled to 20-24 in per year. By this time the lakes surface shronk with 60%.
    In 1980, ’s the Aral Sea was losing 31-35 in of water every ear.
    The amount of water taken from the river has doubled between 1960-2000. In the same time cotton production double.
    By 1998, the lakes area dropped from 26.000 sq mi to 11.076 sq mi.
    By 2004, The Aral Sea was only 6.630 sq mi just 25% of its original size, and a salinity level five times higher which have killed all the natural flora and fauna
    In 2007, the lake shrink to 10% of it’s original size with a salinity 10 times greater then regular water.


    The irrigation did made the desert bloom, but they destroyed the Aral Sea. The fisheries and the communities that were depending on them collapsed
The water of the lake became polluted by fertilizers and pesticides. The dust from the exposed lakebed became a public health hazard because it was contaminated agricultural pesticides.
The salty and contaminated dust was blown from the dried up lakebed to the field and crops damaging the soils quality. The affected lands were in need of a large quantity of rivers water.
The lake had been divided into four parts. Northen part, southern part, eastern part, and the western part. By 2009, the southern part completely disappeared, and the western part had retreated to a thin strip.


    By 2014, the Eastern part of the lake was also completely drowned up. Now it’s just a desert.


The dam was finished in 2005 and by the end of 2008 the water level has risen 39ft and the salinity of the lake dropped. The lake was again populated with fish in such a number that fishing became viable.


    The disappearance of the Aral Sea was no surprise to the Soviet Government as the lake was doomed from the first day. It was a five year plan wich could not be contradicted by anyone because it was approved by the government and the executive committee of the Soviet Union political parties.
    The Aral Sea was considered an error of nature and the evaporation of the lake was considered inevitable.


    Every living organism in the Aral Sea and the islands dotting the lake was nearly destroyed mostly because of the high salinity level. All the dust remained from drained up lake, is now poisoned with chemicals, pesticides and salt. All these poisoned sand is picked up and carried by the wind to the surrounding area. The population living in this area struggles with the lack of fresh water, high rates of cancer, lung disease, tuberculosis, digestive disorders, anemia, infection diseases are very common in the area. Every 75 of 1000 newborn dies and 12 of every 1000 maternity death are common.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Earth from Above / UNESCO
Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Earth from Above / UNESCO

Before 1960, the fishing industry in the Aral Sea was booming. It was producing one-sixth of the Soviet Unions total fish catch.     Today the fishing towns along the original shoreline are just a graveyard for abandoned ships, that lie on dried land once covered with water, miles away from today’s shore of the lake.

Over the year were a few environmental solution proposed. Some of them are:
1. improving the quality of the irrigation canals
2. installing desalinization plants
3. charging farmers to use the water from the river
4. using other cotton species that requires less water
5. promoting non-agricultural economic development in the upstream countries
6. using fewer chemicals on the cotton.
7. replacing cotton with other crops
8. installing dens to fill the Aral Sea
9. redirecting water from other rivers to fill the Aral Sea
10. pumping sea water from the Caspian Sea via a pipeline and diluting it with fresh water from the local catchment area.

      In January 1994, the 5 countries surrounding the Aral Sea signed an agreement to give 1% of their budget to help recover the Aral Sea.
    The objectives of the agreement are:
– Stabilize the environment of the Aral Sea. This phase began in 1992, until 1997 the involvement of the World Bank. Because it focused on improving the land around the Aral Sea and not the irrigation system, it was considered inefficient
– Rehabilitate the disaster around the lake
With the lack of integration with the local community involved, the second phase wich lasted 5 years wasn’t too successful either. After all these failed attempts to resolve the problems, another plan was put together in 1997. The target of this plan was to improve the current irrigation system and the management of the local water.
– Improve the management of the international waters of the areal sea
– To build the capacity of the institution supervising the agreement at the regional and national level


In March 2000, The second World Water Forum in Hague presented by Unesco was criticized because of the unrealistic goals.
    In the last attempt to save the Aral Sea, in 2005 Kazakhstan built a dam between the Northen and Southern part of the lake that separated them. Over the years the southern part completely disappeared.
    With the southern part left to disappear, all the water coming from the Syr Darya river will stay in the Northen part. Between 2005 and 2006 the results of the dam started to show as the water in that part of the lake rebounded significantly and a slight increase is also visible over the next years.

    With the help of the Satelite images taken by Nasa, we can see the disappearance of the lake over time.

         The dam had a positive effect over the Aral Sea. The level risen, the salinity decreased, and the lakes fish stock returned

          In 2009, Kazakhstan received a loan from the World Bank for the construction of a Second Dam. The construction started in 2011, and the results are visible as the Northen part of the Aral Sea wich lies in Kazakhstan is slowly revised.
    The Southern Part of the Aral Sea is deemed for disappearance. The country who’s land is lying on, Uzbekistan shows no interest in abandoning the irrigation source for the cotton fields. Instead, Uzbekistan is focused on oil and gas exploration from the dried lakebed.
    As os June 1, 2010, 500.000 cubic meters of gas were extracted from the former Aral Sea lakebed.


    The shrink of Aral sea was called one of the worst planet’s environmental disasters because the whole region was destroyed. A one’s prospering fishing industry was destroyed. The results are unemployment, pollution, economic hardship and public health problems.

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