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Aral Sea—What Was and What Is
Since the very beginning of its existence, the human being has been
developing. It has never stopped, and it never will. During the last
couple of centuries it has been developing very aggressively, and it has
reached tremendous achievements in all fields. Unfortunately mankind has
achieved tremendous success in polluting its environment also. Nowadays,
nature is missing many of its inhabitants: – those who are supposed to be
under the protection of humans as young brothers and sisters. Pollution was
the reason for their extinction. Finally, the humanity started paying more
attention to what surrounds it. It started thinking about the future, its
future generations, and the inheritance to these generations. People have
started asking themselves more often questions like, “What will we have
left to other children after us?” Currently, humanity has plenty of global
environmental problems that it has to take care of now. Tomorrow will be
too late. Some of these global environmental problems are global warming,
deforestation, freshwater contamination, destruction of ozone layer of the
earth, pollution of space orbit of the earth by parts of used equipment.
Desiccation of the Aral Sea is one of the items on the list.
The Aral Sea, which is also considered to be a lake or Inland Sea in
Central Asia, is located in southwestern Kazakstan and northwestern
Uzbekistan, near the Caspian Sea. The Aral has no outlet. The Aral Sea is
still listed as the fourth largest lake in the world. But it has been
shrinking for decades, and the statistics might change. In time the Aral
Sea may not the fourth largest lake in the world anymore.
Nowadays, two major problems have risen before the governments of
Uzbekistan and Kazakstan; the desiccation and as a result of this threat of
the complete disappearance of the sea, and the danger of the broad
extension of anthrax bacteria that was stored by the Soviet Army
In comparison with the size of the sea in the 1960’s, the Sea has
declined in size by seventy-six percent. The initial reason for the Aral’s
decline is the fact that Soviet planners diverted water from Aral’s two big
feeding rivers (Amu Darya and Syr Darya) into cotton fields in the
territory of Uzbekistan. Because of this irrigation, the sea is now seventy
miles away from its former bank (in some places even more). Ninety percent
of the Syr Daya’s water is diverted into canals and reservoirs. Millions
of people in Central Asia rely on the rivers for a livelihood. Uzbekistan,
for instance, generates twenty-eight percent of its hard currency from
cotton irrigated with river water (The Aral Sea,
Planning the irrigation system, the Soviet planners were only after
high rates of cotton harvests. Unwise use of water has led to the current
state of the Aral Sea. The salt content of the Sea’s waters increased by
about threefold, adversely affecting plant and animal life and causing the
fishing industry to decline.
The disappearance of the sea as a part of the ecosystem is just one
problem that is followed by hundreds of subsequent problems. One of them
has already risen: The drying of the sea has left behind three million
hectares of desiccated seabed, covered with accumulated salts which the
wind carries away and deposits over thousands of square kilometers of
arable land turning the land into dead ones. One can see white ridges amid
the soil in the field. Salty dust from the dried out land blows in squalls
through the area, causing discomfort and respiratory problems. Wind brings
more than a hundred tons of salty dust per square mile on the region every
year. As a result of this, trees do not bear fruit any more.
The Aral Sea’s desiccation has an influence on everything that is
around it. The climate in the region has changed significantly; the
winters are even colder, summers are even hotter.
The sea was not only the water supply for the population, but it was
the source of their income. A large part of the population was involved
in fishing and resort industries. Now, that the Sea is far away, these
businesses are no longer available, and that leads to deterioration of the
financial situation of the people in the area.
“In city of Muynak, the three hundred-vessel fleet once employed a thousand
fishermen. It is now a collection of rusting hulls half-buried amid the
dunes on the edge of town. Yet the sixty-year-old canning factory still
clatters, all steam and stench, although its seven hundred workers handle
fish brought by lorry from the lakes around Tashkent, one thousand miles
away” (Reeves, The Sea Sickness).
The sea has turned from a rich fishing ground to a prairie of poison
dust. Desiccation has a great deal of influence on the population’s
health; the change in environment has significantly increased rates of
birth defects, infant mortality, cancers, malnutrition, respiratory
diseases, and the anemia suffered by almost all women of child-bearing age.
Malnutrition has risen sharply; fish is no longer a part of the people’s
daily diet. Another side effect imposed on the population is a
dramatically increased rate of tuberculosis in the area.
One of the causes of health deterioration is that over three decades
the water could not or barely could make it to the Aral Sea. The Aral’s
water contains a lot of pesticides. The pesticides sank to the bottom of
the lake. As the lake dried up, this layer of pesticide became exposed to
the wind, which blows it away on the other lands.
The partial solution for the problem is to build a dam to keep water
from flowing into the larger, southern portion. Plans call for the
structure’s base to be 150 yards wide. If money is found for the
construction, the water level of the northern sea will rise to the same
level it was in 1960’s. As a result of the construction, salination of the
sea will decrease. This fact might contribute to restoration of fishing
and resort industries.
For the population of this region, the dam is a rare ray of hope. If
the dam holds on the small sea, a microclimate will be restored there. The
health of people will improve and it will be good for the economy.
Calculations by the Kazak Academy of Science in Almaty, the country’s
main commercial city, suggest the entire sea might disappear by 2010
without the dam. Currently the northern Sea is one-sixth as large as the
southern portion. If the surface area is reduced, less water will
evaporate. The full damage caused cannot be repaired, but it can be stopped
from going any further.
The second threat to the Aral Sea and its inhabitants is anthrax
bacteria stored 1988 by the Soviet Army. The Army was trying to get rid of
its germ weapons and stored the bacteria on one of the Aral’s islands.
Soldiers dug large pits and poured a mixture of anthrax bacteria and
bleach. The bleach was supposed to kill the bacteria, but it did not.
Even with the passage of time, the bacteria stay alive.
Now, the Sea is drying out and this island can become a part of land.
This fact carries the threat that anthrax bacteria can be exposed to
atmosphere one day, and it will become a very serious danger to both
At this time, both governments in cooperation with the United States
are undertaking actions in order to prevent the extension of the bacteria.
Over the two last centuries many of Earth’s inhabitants became extinct
as a result of environmental pollution. It is time to stop it; otherwise
the next extinct inhabitant might turn out to be humanity itself.
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Princeton University Press, 1978
Sulvan J.Kaplan, Ph.D. Evelyn Kivy – Rosenberg, Ph.D. “Ecology and The
Quality of Life.” Illinois: Publisher spring field, 1973
Andrew, Goudie. “The Human Impact.” Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT
John, Passmore. “Man’s Responsobility for Nature.” New York: Charles
Scribner’s Sons, 1974
Robin, Butlim A, and Neil Roberts. “Ecological Relations in Historical
Times.” London: The Institute of British Geographers, 1985.
Sue Loyd-Robers. “Kazakhs Struggle to Refill their Lost Sea; Draining the
Aral Destroyed a Way of Life.” Newspaper Publishing PLC, London: The
Phill, Reeves “The Sea Sickness.” Newspaper Publishing PLC, London: The
Independent, March 6, 1999.
Graham, Hugles. “Scientists Fight to Save the Aral Sea: Desappearing Lake
Waters Leave Disease, Poverty in Wake.” Southan Inc. The Ottawa
Citizen, January 30, 1999.
Ganiel, Williams. “The Sinking Sea; Dike Splitting Kazakhstan’s Aral Dims
Hopes for Its Salvation.” The Washington Post, November 1, 1998.
The Aral Sea. www.southampton.ac.uk/%7Eengenvir/water/aral.sea.html
The Aral Sea. http://visearth.ucsd.edu/VisE_Int/aralsea
Water Features and Water Issues: Aral Sea.
Children’s Response to the Aral Sea Problem