Secretary General of the United Nations warned global community and the Central Asian governments about the disastrous effects of mismanaging our environment and natural resources after he had toured the vanishing Aral Sea on Easter Sunday. The Secretary General appealed to the world to turn things around and to save the Aral Sea from drying up.
Aral Sea, once the fourth largest lake on our planet and the largest in Central Asia, between Kazakhstan in the north and Uzbekistan in the south, has shrunk more than 70% in the last decades after the diversion of the inflowing rivers for irrigation purposes. At the today’ rate of the lake’s shrinkage, the Aral Sea can dry up by 2020.
Because most of the Aral Sea water supply had been diverted, the sea once measuring 26,000 square miles or 66,000 square kilometers has split in this decade into three lakes, the North Aral Sea and the South Aral Sea with its eastern and western basins. The south-eastern lake has just about disappeared and from the south-western lake only a small strip remains. All in all, Aral Sea is now only one tenth of its size it once was.
While the dam project completed in 2005 has slowed down the demise of the North Aral Sea, the prospects for South Aral Sea are much grimmer. The ecosystem of the South Aral Sea has been destroyed. The high salinity has killed most of its flora and fauna. Fishing industry has just about ceased, with many fishing boats abandoned for years in the desert that was once the lake.
The economic and environmental impacts of the Aral Sea shrinkage are catastrophic. With more than 60% loss of Aral Sea’s volume and former lake bed now desert, about 200,000 tones of sand and salt are now being blown by the wind polluting everything within a very large radius, increasing the salinity of the region’s soil and decreasing the agricultural land.
Lack of fresh water is a major problem for people in the region. The quality of drinking water heavily declined because of higher salinity and wide contamination with toxic chemicals.
Unemployment is very, very high. The people living in the region are the poorest in Central Asia.
Toxic dust storms are contributing to all kinds of health problems. Respiratory diseases and allergies are on the rise, with throat cancer and tuberculosis three times the national average. There is also a high child mortality rate and high maternity death in the region.
While restoration projects underway in the North Aral Sea have stopped its demise, decreased its salinity and caused the sea level of North Aral Sea rise breathing new life into its fishing industry, Uzbekistan has so far been unsuccessful in restoring the South Aral Sea or slowing down its demise.
Source: UN, UNEP