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Salvaging the Aral

Kazaks To Dam Shrinking Aral

In the last 50 years the Aral [Sea] has dried up to a fraction of its original size. It has divided into two parts, the northern one inside Kazakstan and the bigger southern section largely in Uzbekistan. Soviet irrigation projects which drew off much of the water from the Aral's principal sources, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, are largely to blame for the crisis.

... Since January, engineers have been working on a dyke which they hope will contain the northern section, located in Kazakstan. Together with technology to regulate the flow of the Syr Darya, which runs through Kazak territory into the northern Aral, scientists think water levels could even begin rising, allowing the fishing industry to revive.

... Local people are all too familiar with the winds which carry poisonous dust from the dead seabed over hundreds of kilometres, creating a salty white mist. Kazak scientists say constant exposure to the salts and pollutants in the air and soil reduces people's immunity and leads to widespread disease. Respiratory illnesses among children are increasing fast. The poverty caused by the economic consequences of the disappearing Aral makes people even more prone to sickness.

It's depressing that it's come to this, and I'm suspicious of turning to yet more massive engineering projects to fix a problem that was caused by massive engineering projects (Soviet irrigation schemes) and allowed to continue by the hope of yet more massive engineering projects (the SibAral Canal, that would have diverted part of the Ob river into Central Asia and thus supposedly fix everything). But perhaps a smaller, more manageable project like saving the northern half of the sea (i.e., the stuff that happens after the dam is done) will help lay the groundwork for reviving the whole thing. The consequences of the pollution and salt on the dry bed of the sea suggest that the only real long-term solution is to restore the entire sea to near-pre-Soviet levels.


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