In response to the internationally recognized environmental crisis of the rapid desiccation of the Aral Sea, the five states sharing the Aral Sea Basin (Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) joined together to develop a strategy to end the crisis. The World Bank and agencies of the United Nations (UN) have developed an Aral Sea Program, the first stage of which was funded by the five countries and external donors. That stage has seven areas of focus, including -land and water management in the upper watersheds. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

A 10-mile dike was built in the early 1990s between the northern and southern seas to block a channel that carried water from the northern sea to the southern sea. The purpose of it was to save to the northern sea, which has since risen about three meters as of the early 2000s and is expected to stabilize at about 3,500 square kilometers by 2025.

Martin Fletcher wrote in The Times, “In 1992, freed from Moscow’s yoke, the people of the northern Aral took action. They dammed the channel flowing from their sea, which was still receiving some water from the Syr Darya, to the southern Aral, which was receiving practically none from the Amu Darya. That primitive barrier was washed away. A second was destroyed by a storm in 1996 – but only after proving that a dam could raise the level of the northern sea. [Source: Martin Fletcher, The Times, June 23, 2007]

Reducing irrigation could help bring the sea back. Uzbekistan desperately needs the money brings and it is unwilling to make reductions in water usage. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan also are reluctant to make reductions as agriculture helps employ lots of people (they are less desperate for money as the both have oil and natural gas wealth). If they decide to cut off the irrigation water their government are worried about unemployment, debts and social problems. The Soviet Union, which created the problem, is no longer around.

The cost of returning the Aral Sea to something of its former size has been estimated at around $280 billion. There has been some discussion of building a canal between the Aral Sea and Caspian Sea, which is rising. The first time these plans were mentioned by Soviet plans the goal was not to save the Aral Sea but rather to bring in more irrigation water. Another proposal is to divert water from other rivers to feed the lake.

Eve Conant wrote in Discover magazine: Plans to save the sea abounded; "assessment fatigued" locals joked that if each visiting scientist had brought a bucket of water, the sea would be filled. The Soviets dreamed up a $40 billion scheme to divert rivers flowing into the Arctic Sea into the Aral instead, but the plan was shelved for lack of cash. After the Soviet Union collapsed, desperate Kazakh villagers built a primitive dam out of sand to keep the water that trickled into the northern sea from draining away into the southern portion. The dam washed away in the late '90s. [Source: Eve Conant, Discover, September 2006 |=|]

Dam Saves the Northern Aral Sea in Kazakhstan

In July 2003, the World Bank and the Kazakhstan government launched an $86 million Kok-Aral Dam project to revive the Aral Sea that involved building a proper 13-kilometer-long (eight-mile-long) earthen dike to channel water from the Syr Darya River to a northern section of the Aral Sea. The dam-dike was built at the foot of the northern Aral. To increase the flow from the Syr Darya, existing levees were strengthened, banks were straightened and old Soviet bottlenecks were removed. The plans also called for fish hatcheries to be restocked ad landbound fishing boats to be put into service again.

Mark Synnott wrote in National Geographic: “ The only bright spot in this dire saga” of the Aral Sea” is the recent recovery of the northern sea. In 2005, with funding from the World Bank, the Kazakhs completed an eight-mile dam on the northern sea’s southern shore, creating a fully separate body of water, fed by the Syr Darya. Since the dam was built, the northern sea and its fishery have come back much more quickly than expected. But the dam has cut off the southern sea from one of its crucial water sources, sealing its fate.” [Source: Mark Synnott, National Geographic, June 2015]

Ilan Greenberg wrote in the New York Times: “ About a million people live along Kazakhstan's Aral Sea coastal plain.... A series of dikes designed to create spillways to allow the flushing of excess salt from the sea while improving overall water levels. A sluice built on top of the dam sends excess water to the parched big Aral Sea, which is largely within neighboring Uzbekistan. The entire project will entail the repair of an existing second dam; the digging of a channel to connect the northern and southern Arals; and additional water management structures, some able to harvest hydroelectric power from the water flows. [Source: Ilan Greenberg The New York Times, April 7, 2006 ^]

Engineers calculated that dike would raise the level of the water by four meters feet — raisong the northern sea from 38 meters to 42 meters — and add more than 520 square kilometers to the lake’s surface area in three years. It took just 18 months for the northern sea to grow from 2,300 to 3,250 square kilometers.

History of the Dam That Saved the Northern Aral Sea

Eve Conant wrote in Discover magazine: After years of failed initiatives, bureaucratic negligence, and post-Soviet squabbling among former republics, there is now real hope for the Aral Sea. The effort by the World Bank and the Kazakh government, begun in 2001, has reconstructed nearly 60 miles of canals, sluices, and waterworks, dramatically improving water distribution in Kazakhstan. The river flow now efficiently irrigates fields along the banks of the Syr Darya and runs into and rejuvenates the dried-up Aral Sea. [Source: Eve Conant, Discover, September 2006 |=|]

“The Kok-Aral Dam, the project's centerpiece, traps the increased flow from the Syr Darya into the northern Aral Sea, preventing it from draining away into the southern Aral Sea, most of which lies in neighboring Uzbekistan. Composed of packed fine sand topped with coarser sand, the dam spans eight miles and looks like a slightly elevated gravel road. Its long, gentle slope protects it from being washed away. |=|

“The dam was finished in August 2005. In just seven months, the water level near the dam rose from 126 to 138 feet, fanning northward over 310 square miles of parched seabed and adding about 28 million cubic feet of lifesaving water. Optimists had hoped that in 5 to 10 years, flow from the Syr Darya influx would result in a significant spillover into the southern sea. In February 2006, the dam's spillway opened far ahead of schedule, providing a preferred fishing hole for locals. Kudabai Zhienbayev, the leader of the sparsely populated region, says: "There are seven wonders in the world, and this dam is the eighth. To divide the sea in two and save it—it's a miracle." |=|

“Alan Howitt, project manager for the enormous construction effort, says improved river management overall has been key. When he first saw the Soviet-era channels and control gates along the once-mighty Syr Darya, he was shocked. "They were rusted and full of holes. It was a mess." His engineers covered holes with steel plates, widened sluices, and in some areas even straightened the river. The flow of the Syr Darya soon doubled to 28,252 cubic feet per second. |=|

Revival of the Northern Aral Sea

In 2006, several months after the main part of the dam was finished, Ilan Greenberg wrote in the New York Times: “The Aral Sea has this year taken on millions of cubic feet of new water years ahead of schedule, surpassing even the sunniest predictions made when a new dam was completed last summer. The additional water has overwhelmed many of the yellow- stained grass islands that had dotted the Aral's shrinking coastline, and with each month the water pushes back the desert just a little more. But it has already shown surprising results. The Kok-Aral Dam has caused the small Aral's level to swiftly rise to 38 meters, or 125 feet, from a low of less than 30 meters; 42 meters is considered the level of viability. Although World Bank water experts had forecast that the water levels would begin to rise only in three years or so - while other experts had put the Aral beyond any hope of reclamation - the small Aral's surface area has already expanded by 30 percent, bloated by about 10 million cubic meters of new water. [Source: Ilan Greenberg The New York Times, April 7, 2006 ^]

Reporting from Aralsk, Kazakhstan in 2007, Martin Fletcher wrote in The Times, “The northern Aral has since grown by 1,000 sq km. Its fish and fishermen are returning. The climate is improving. People are healthier. “Good News – The Sea is Coming Back”, proclaims a billboard outside Aralsk. For the first time in a generation people in that rundown port dare to believe that ships will once again sail into their dried-up harbour. “This project has shown it’s been possible to reverse one of the world’s worst man-made environment disasters and bring back to life a sea that almost everyone thought was beyond saving,” said Joop Stoutjesdijk, the World Bank water expert who helped to rescue the northern Aral from communism’s ultimate triumph over nature. [Source: Martin Fletcher, The Times, June 23, 2007 ]

“Within a few years its waters should be washing around the stranded vessels, lapping against the sand dunes below Zhambul, and astonishing younger villagers for whom stories of the Aral’s cool blue waters and abundant fish are merely legends. “My joy will be boundless,” Mr Ubaidulaev exclaims. “I will be able to fish again, feed my family, breathe fresh air.”

“To the south of the dyke a barren seabed stretches away as far as the eye can see. To the north, as a crimson sun rose over the horizon, The Times watched a boat glide over a vast expanse of silver water with a netful of carp and pike-perch flapping in the bottom. Birds swooped overhead. Horses stood drinking in the nearby shallows. “It’s wonderful,” exclaimed Abilkhan Sariyev, the 60-year-old boatman who monitors the dozen species of fish that have returned. But Mr Stoutjesdijk’s work is not finished. The new dyke is high enough to refill only half of the northern Aral. The water still stops 8 kilometers short of Zhambul, and 30 short of Aralsk, where old cranes and dilapidated warehouses surround the empty harbour.”

Peter Finn wrote in the Washington Post, “Aralsk port, though still dry, is showing signs of revival, and a new fish-processing plant handled 2,000 tons of fish last year. The number of houses occupied in Tastupek village has jumped from eight to 17. The return of fish to the local diet, coupled with improved drinking water and the ability to grow vegetables, has brought some health benefits, according to Marat Turemuratov, a doctor in Aralsk. Residents' health has also been helped by improvements in the microclimate, which now has fewer sandstorms and more rain. 'For the first time in a long time, I feel some optimism,' Turemuratov said.” [Source: Peter Finn, Washington Post, July 11, 2007 ***]

Politics of Trying to Save the Aral Sea

The leaders of the five former Soviet Central Asia nation periodically get together and say they will do something about the Aral Sea tragedy. In 1993, they agreed to contribute 1 percent of their state budgets to an "Aralbank" fund to save the sea. The money never appeared. Foreign aid organization have shown a similar lack of enthusiasm. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have approved a cooperation strategy outlined in a 2004 United Nations report. Turkmenistan did not support the plan.

On some places local people have taken matters into their own hands. The people of Aralsk funded a dam on the Syr-Darya, 100 miles from their town. The dam has not restored the sea but has reduced the amount of salt entering the town. Not long after the dam was built it was in danger of collapsing and $80 million was needed to fix it.

One of the easiest solutions to the Aral Sea problem would be to raise the price of water but this is not done because it was it would put hundreds of thousands of struggling farmers out of business. Philip Micklin, a specialist on Central Asian water and a retired University of Western Michigan geographer, told the New York Times, “It’s a management problem everyone makes. And sometimes its not even choices, it’s who grabs the most.” He told National Geographic engineering money and political accords are key. “If they don’t exist by 2020,” much “of the water won’t either.”

Mark Synnott wrote in National Geographic: “Since the Soviet Union collapsed, the five “Stans” have often found themselves with conflicting agendas when managing their region’s most precious resource. Complicating matters, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya trace their courses through several different countries, and each claims ownership of the waters that flow through its territory. In hopes of working together to solve Central Asia’s chronic water shortage, the Stans in 1992 formed the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination. Its discussions tend to revolve around two central questions: Who owns the water, and what responsibility do the upstream countries have to protect the resource for those downstream? In the case of the Aral Sea, the inhabitants of Karakalpakstan, one of Uzbekistan’s poorest regions, appear to have no say about what happens to the water of the Amu Darya upstream, as other countries lay claim to it. “This is discrimination due to geographic location,” says Kamalov. “That water belongs to the Aral.”[Source: Mark Synnott, National Geographic, June 2015 +/]

Optimism on Saving the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan

In 2007, Martin Fletcher wrote in The Times, “President Nazarbayev has personally pledged to bring the sea back to Aralsk, much as Kennedy promised to put men on the Moon. This will probably entail the construction of a second, 20 kilometer, dyke across another set of narrows farther up the northern Aral, and of a canal from the Syr Darya to raise the water above that dyke to 46 meters. A new channel would then carry the water the last 6 kilometers into Aralsk’s harbour. [Source: Martin Fletcher, The Times, June 23, 2007 ]

“This second phase is expected to start in 2009, but the first phase alone is revitalising Aralsk. Fishermen are returning. A large new fish processing plant is working at full capacity. A new fish hatchery will release 15 million fingerlings into the northern Aral this year, and reintroduce sturgeon this autumn. Another new factory is building fibreglass fishing boats. Aralsk processed 2,000 tonnes of fish last year – enough to export some to Georgia, Russia and Ukraine.

With clean drinking water now piped in from 120 kilometers away, and fish back in their diet, people’s health has begun to improve. Even the climate is changing for the better. “It’s true. In April, May and June we now have rain,” exclaims Nazhmedin Musabaev, Aralsk’s jovial Mayor. There is more grass for livestock. Summers are a little cooler. Duststorms are fewer. Swans, duck and geese are returning. Satykul Ubaidulaev yearns to see his young daughter swimming in the sea. Babacha Kozhaeva will die happy if the water returns to Aralsk. The Mayor looks forward to drinking beer with visitors around a refilled harbour.

Environmental Impact of the Northern Aral Sea Dam

Eve Conant wrote in Discover magazine: “With water levels rising, thickets of reeds have cropped up along the banks of the Syr Darya, providing harbor and food for waterfowl, which in turn has led to more Asiatic foxes, wolves, and wild asses, or kulans, and boars. But the creature that excites leading Aral Sea specialist Nick Aladin, head of the Brackish Water Laboratory at the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, is the cladoceran, known as the jumping water flea. In his lilting Russian accent, Aladin explains that "Cladocera are very, very tasty for all fish. Even the piranhas in my home aquarium love them." When the Syr Darya and the Aral Sea were choked off, the region's 12 species of Cladocera dwindled to one or two. The return of the fleas, and the countless species that feed on them, says Aladin, "is a very good sign." [Source: Eve Conant, Discover, September 2006 |=|]

“With increased river flow, the salt level has been dropping, reaching about 14 grams per liter this summer. The water by the dam, which I sampled, is still somewhat briny but hardly the salty, chemical cocktail I'd expected. Because of releases from local hatcheries, 11 species, including pike perch, silver carp, and vobla—a delicacy when dried—are now thriving. |=|

“Zhienbayev whispers that he has "a commercial secret." Last year, during a preliminary attempt to release sturgeon into the lakes around the Aral Sea, he and his villagers surreptitiously stashed away 100 fingerlings in a hatchery pond. That pond is the centerpiece of his dusty village, Tastak, where locals proudly display a wheelbarrow full of gasping, knobby-spined sturgeon, soon to be full of what the villagers call their black gold—caviar. Once the salinity of the Aral Sea drops to half what it is now, in perhaps two years, larger hatcheries will begin releasing sturgeon into it. |=|

“In the meantime, the largest town on the northern Aral Sea, Aralsk, awaits the return of water to its withered harbor. But even at a distance, the people are experiencing benefits. The rising waters have already influenced the region's weather, bringing clouds and rainstorms last May that had been absent for decades. Farmers benefit because the increase in precipitation extends the growing season. The town's chief doctor, Asanbaev, sees other signs of improvement. In the past year, the incidence of anemia among young women has decreased from about 70 to 80 percent to around 50 percent. Like many locals, he thinks better nutrition is the reason. Fish are easier to get now that the sea, once 62 miles away, is just 9 miles distant.” |=|

Fishing Returns to the Northern Aral Sea in Kazakhstan

In 2007, Peter Finn wrote in the Washington Post, In the cool of one recent evening, after tending to his herd of 19 camels, Puzblay Seytpembetov and four companions pushed his small single-engine boat out onto the placid waters of the Aral Sea to lay fishnets. In the morning, he predicted, he would haul in flapping carp and pikeperch. It is a daily task that until recently had seemed forever lost to the folly of humankind. 'It's good to be back on the water. I'm happy for that,' said the weather-beaten fisherman, who turned to camel herding when the shoreline withdrew. 'But it's not the sea it used to be. That's the truth.' [Source: Peter Finn, Washington Post, July 11, 2007 ***]

“Since the dam's completion in 2005, the surface area of the northern sea has expanded from 1,440 square miles to more than 2,000. Fish stocks have slowly been replenished with the help of a Danish environmental group; sturgeon will be reintroduced to the sea this year... Engineers say that a second phase of the dam project, if it is financed, could bring water up to the Aral's former northern shores, including to Aralsk....The men of Zhambul for years drove eight miles along a rutted track on the former seabed to reach their boats. In the past two years the journey has shortened as the water has advanced. 'We believe the water will come back to us, right to the village,' said Kurmanay Kopzhavov, 34, a fishing inspector who lives in Zhambul. 'We have a future again.' ***

Eve Conant wrote in Discover magazine: “With rumors circulating of fishermen making upwards of $800 a day, villages closest to the dam are already vying for international investment. Zhienbayev, who grew up not far from here, gazes at the fishermen drawing in net after net. "I'm so happy. I've waited my whole life for this. Not long ago this was all sand; we called this the Dead Sea." One of the fishermen from his village, 26-year-old Darxhan Rysmakgombetov, comes to shore with dozens of carp flapping violently in his net. "I caught these in an hour," he says, beaming. Until recently, the only fish that could survive the salt levels were brine shrimp and a special salt-tolerant flounder that had been introduced in 1979. Locals thought the fish was "very strange looking," said Zhienbayev. "No one wanted to eat it." [Source: Eve Conant, Discover, September 2006 |=|]

Reporting from Karateren, Kazakhstan, Ilan Greenberg wrote in the New York Times: “ In the blue night haze, Gamin Zhaisanbayev and several dozen other men haul heavy gear into their trucks as boys sitting on stoops quietly watch their silhouettes. Zhaisanbayev and his neighbors are preparing for a job not undertaken in this dusty village for more than a generation: They are going fishing. In dozens of villages like Karateren, frigid green water now laps against long-abandoned harbors and fishing vessels hastily retrieved from open air desert graves have been put back to sea. [Source: Ilan Greenberg The New York Times, April 7, 2006 ^]

Previously, Zhaisanbayev worked at a fish processing plant. But that plant closed in 2001, and to support his three young children he took a job at a social club in a larger town. "When the sea came back I knew I must fish," Zhaisanbayev said. "It is what we wait for." He said on a good day now, fishing for carp and flounder he can come home with 10,000 tenge, or about $85, in his pocket, an astronomical profit in a region where many people survive on little more than a few dollars a day. "The sea is the main thing," he said, brown eyes gleaming...Zhaisanbayev says many are now returning to the fishing fleets. Karaterin has no store and is hours away from any heavy industry, but its population has grown to 1,700 people from a low of less than half that two years ago. A new mosque is being built.^

“For many in the region, the return of the water is confirmation that the Aral's past is prologue. Kudaibergen Sarzhanov, a spry former Soviet minister of fisheries for Kazakhstan during the reign of Mikhail Gorbachev, plans a 2009 release of the 30,000 fish he has been incubating at home, financing his project from a small UN grant and funding from his local government. Sarzhanov has spent his retirement collecting the almost extinct usech, a rubbery fish native to the Aral that can eventually grow to 18 kilograms, or 40 pounds. He is eager to release his hoard. "I live together with the fish," he said. ^

“At the Komushbosh Fishing Hatchery, a modern fish incubator funded by a $143,000 grant from Israel, the plan is to release as many as 30 million young sturgeon, carp and flounder into the Aral and its many nearby lakes when water levels are at full level, double the number of fish scheduled for release in 2006.” ^

Futile Plans to Revive the Southern Aral Sea

Peter Finn wrote in the Washington Post, “The much larger southern parts of the Aral are still dying, though they get a bit of overflow from the dam. The Turkmen and Uzbek governments continue to draw most of the water from the Aral's second feeding river, the Amu Darya, to irrigate crops.” [Source: Peter Finn, Washington Post, July 11, 2007]

Eve Conant wrote in Discover magazine: Several years ago the U.N. predicted that the Aral Sea might disappear entirely by 2020, and that fate is still plausible for the southern portion. While oil-rich Kazakhstan has the resources to invest in longer-term solutions, the resource-poor Uzbeks seem more inclined to search for oil in the barren sea bottom than to finance a rescue of the sea itself. [Source: Eve Conant, Discover, September 2006 |=|]

"It's two parallel universes," says Aladin. "They are happy in the north and poor in the south." Micklin says that despite spillover from the dam, the southern portion of the sea in Uzbekistan will probably shrink a little bit faster than it would have before the dam's construction. "That's just the truth of it. The Uzbek government didn't raise any objection to the dam, but it's not going to help them." |=|

“Aladin and Micklin contend that rerouting the Amu Darya, the southern sea's primary tributary, to flow into the western or eastern portions of the sea could slow or stop the shrinkage. But more people in Uzbekistan depend on agriculture than in Kazakhstan. Deciding how to apportion water resources in a poor land is "a difficult decision," says Aladin. "It's like the mother of two children during the siege of Leningrad who must decide which child to keep alive, which one gets the bread." |=|

“Even Masood Ahmad agrees it would be almost impossible to save the sea in its entirety. "If we brought all river water back to the Aral Sea, it would still take more than 70 years to fill it back up, just like it took 50 years to bring it down." Of course, doing that would be ruinous for the farmers who rely on river water for agriculture. One of the reasons for the project's success is that the participants were limited to Kazakhstan. Previous restoration efforts had stalled because of problems with cooperation among multiple states. Nonetheless, the outcome of this project might hold the solution for other troubled waterways, such as the Salton Sea in California or Lake Chad in Central Africa.

Giving Up on the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan

Martin Fletcher wrote in The Times, “There is no hope for the larger southern Aral. Even if the Amu Darya were fully restored it would take 25 years to refill, but that will not happen. Millions now depend on crops irrigated by the river, and the Uzbeks want to explore the dried-up seabed for oil.” [Source: Martin Fletcher, The Times, June 23, 2007]

Numerous studies and meeting have been conducted and hundreds of experts have checked out the Aral Sea. But little has come of it. On resident of Muynak told Reuters, "Foreigners come, see our plight, promise help and then leave. That is the last we usually see of them." Another man told the BBC, If each of them had brought a bucket, the sea would have filled up again by now."

Some environmentalists have given up, saying that nothing can be done. One expert told the Washington Post, "There's not enough water to stabilize the sea...Maybe sometime 50 years from for now there may be enough water to bring it back." Solutions involve using water more efficiently and abandoning cotton as a cash crop and using crops that use less water,

Mark Synnott wrote in National Geographic: “Every expert I interviewed predicted that Uzbekistan’s portion of the Aral Sea would not be refilled in any foreseeable human time frame. It’s a point Kamalov seems resigned to. He loathes the policy that is killing the sea of his homeland. But he confesses that when the fall cotton harvest arrives in a few weeks, he will perform his national service, just as he has done every fall for 50 years.) “No one is exempt,” Kamalov notes. “You can be 90 years old with one eye and one leg and you still must pick.” Worried about publishing Kamalov’s frank comments, I ask him, again, if he is comfortable going on the record. “In Karakalpakstan we are all afraid of Tashkent,” he replies, referring to the Uzbek capital. “And personally, I’m sick of it.”[Source: Mark Synnott, National Geographic, June 2015 +/]

Stoutjesdijk of the World Bank told The Times “Forget about the whole sea.” he told the Washington Post: 'We have shown that even the worst environmental disaster can be reversed, somewhat. But we need to be realistic. Even if we dream of the whole Aral Sea, it can't come back.'

Agriculture, Energy and Fishing in the Dying Aral Sea in Uzbekistan

Mark Synnott wrote in National Geographic: “The cotton harvests continue today. Each fall about two million of Uzbekistan’s 29 million citizens “volunteer” to pick millions of bushels of the nation’s cotton crop. The country virtually shuts down while government employees, schoolchildren, teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, and even senior citizens are bused to the fields to reap their daily quota. “Uzbekistan is one of the only places we know of in the world where forced labor is actually organized and enforced by the government, and the president himself is acting as a trafficker in chief,” said Steve Swerdlow, director of the Central Asia bureau of Human Rights Watch. [Source: Mark Synnott, National Geographic, June 2015 +/]

“As we continue toward the sea, we pass dozens of oil and natural gas rigs that punctuate what is otherwise a brittle, pancake-flat desert of sun-bleached sand. According to Kamalov, the rigs started appearing as soon as the sea began to recede, and each year a few more are erected. “Obviously, they provide a massive disincentive for the government to do anything that might cause the sea to refill,” he says. For hours we bump along on rutted dirt tracks. Other than the white sand and the blue sky, the only colors I can make out are the pale green of lonesome saxaul bushes and the pink of occasional tamarisk shrub blossoms.

“Finally a silvery line sparkles on the horizon, growing larger until we arrive at a Chinese encampment of several yurts set up on the edge of the sea. They are here to harvest Artemia parthenogenetica, a type of brine shrimp that is the only living creature left in the sea. When the Aral was healthy, the water was brackish, with a salinity level of 10 grams per liter (the world’s oceans range from 33 to 37 grams per liter). Today the salinity exceeds 110 grams per liter, making it deadly to every species of fish.

United Nations Chief Calls the Aral Sea a 'Shocking Disaster'

During a visit to Central Asia in 2010, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the drying up of the Aral Sea is one of the planet's most shocking disasters. Jim Heintz of Associated Press wrote: “ 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. "It is clearly one of the worst disasters, environmental disasters of the world. I was so shocked," he said. [Source: Jim Heintz, Associated Press, June 4, 2010]

Ban called Central Asia’s countries' leaders to set aside rivalries to step up efforts to solve the problem."I urge all the leaders ... to sit down together and try to find the solutions," he said, promising United Nations support. However, cooperation is hampered by disagreements over who has rights to scarce water and how it should be used. In a presentation to Ban before his flyover, Uzbek officials complained that dam projects in Tajikistan will severely reduce the amount of water flowing into Uzbekistan. Impoverished Tajikistan sees the hydroelectric projects as potential key revenue earners.

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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