Once the fourth largest lake in the world, the Aral Sea now almost doesn’t exist anymore, and the cotton productions are to blame.
It seems that the Soviet Union believed that cotton crops are more important than the existence of the Aral Sea and all the revenue fishing brings to the area.
The Aral Sea was very important for the economy, as it produced an abundance of fish each year, but since the 1960’s it has been slowly disappearing because of the irrigation canals the Soviet Union constructed in order to provide water to the cotton crops in Uzbekistan. These canals redirected the water from the rivers Anu Darya and Syr Daria and stopped them from flowing into the Aral Sea. Later, the Soviet Union decided to include more rivers that fed the Aral Sea into the irrigation system. The fish from the Aral Sea is what kept the regional economy stabile and since there is no fish anymore, coastal towns and villages, including harbors and fishing boats are now abandoned.
Thanks to the deforming of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan started working on rescuing what is left of the Aral Sea.
With the support of the World Bank they managed to construct the Kok-Aral Dam on the southern shore, which made the lake grow by 20% in the last decade. Another innovation made with the help of Israel was the construction of the Komushbosh Fish Hatchery which significantly increased the population of fish in the Aral Sea, including carp, flounder and sturgeon. This will increase the production of fish and possibly save the regional economy. However, neither of these innovations has undone the disaster brought to the Aral Sea by introducing the irrigation system and preventing rivers from flowing into it.
With very little water running into the Aral Sea, and its evaporation, at the place where once there was an abundance of water now there are layers of land covered with salt and pesticides which the Soviet Union put there years ago in large amounts.
Each year, around 31-35 inches of sea level drop and soon there will be nothing left of this sea which was once the fourth largest lake in the world.
Since fishing is no longer a great part of the economy in this region, cotton plantations, which are responsible for the disappearance of the sea in the first place, are now the main source of income.
The U.N. Secretary – Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon made a trip to the sea by helicopter and once he saw the disaster he started pushing Central Asian leaders to try harder and solve the problem.
The nothingness horrified him. “On the pier, I wasn’t seeing anything, I could see only a graveyard of ships”, said Ban Ki-moon when he arrived in the nearest city, Nukus in the Karakalpak region. “It is clearly one of the worst disasters, environmental disasters of the world. I was so shocked,” he continued.
Surprised by the severity of the situation, the secretary-general asked rivals to stop fighting and join forces to fix at least some of the damage. However, the leaders don’t agree on who should get the right to water and how it should be used.
The dam projects would redirect some of the river flow from Uzbekistan, which would reduce the amount of water there. Naturally, they complained. There are several sides affected, and if no common ground is found and the leaders don’t unite, this sea will probably perish entirely very soon.