Aral Sea | Pictures of the Aral Sea shrinking in Uzbekistan

Aral Sea picture

The Aral Sea has suffered extreme water loss as a result of eco-engineering and mismanagement.

Situated between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the Aral Sea is a body of water that has been disappearing steadily since the 1960’s. A victim of Soviet eco-engineering, the Aral Sea provides a picture of social, ecological and health effects of major changes to the environment. In the 1940’s, the Soviet government took the equivalent of payday loans of water from the two rivers that fed the Aral Sea in attempt to water desert crops. Since then, the Aral Sea has suffered dropping water levels.

History of Aral Sea diversions

As a part of the “Great Plan for the Transformation of Nature”, the soviet government built hundreds of miles of canals that diverted up to 60 cubic kilometers of water per year from the Aral Sea. Before these canals were built, the Aral Sea had an area of 68,000 square kilometers. In an attempt to irrigate desert land to grow rice, cotton, grains, and melons, the Soviet government diverted water from the rivers that feed the Aral Sea. The plan was partially successful, as Uzbekistan is now one of the world’s largest cotton exporters.

Shrinkage of the Aral Sea

Since the Soviet government saw agriculture as the loans for people with bad credit, they diverted water from the Aral Sea. However, after twenty years of diversion, the Aral Sea started shrinking. The disappearance of the Aral Sea was a combination of several factors. Water diverted for agriculture at increasing rates was a major cause. Evaporation also caused a significant drop in the Aral Sea. Lastly, a project intended to refill the Aral sea was abandoned in 1986. By 2004, the Aral Sea had split into three separate lakes that are less than 25% of the original size of the Aral Sea.

Ecological and economic impacts of the Aral Sea

The Aral Sea had been a major hub of fishing and commerce. Since the Aral Sea started shrinking, however, the fishing industry has practically disappeared. The salinity of the Aral Sea has also skyrocketed, to the point that the salt has destroyed crops in nearby areas. Toxic dust storms also blow up off the Aral Sea plain, with runoff from chemical testing, fertilizers, weapons testing, and industrial projects all becoming airborne. There are also theories that the loss of the sea has caused severe climate change in the area.

Restoring the Aral Sea

Many groups have been working on restoring at least some of the Aral Sea. The World Bank and UNESCO, as well as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have all put money towards Aral Sea restoration. Major projects have increased the sea depth by about 98 feet, though the likelihood that the Aral Sea will return to its former glory are minimal.


AP News
Aral Sea Foundation