Grégoire Eloy, Aral Dreams, from PRIVATE 45 – Development. An Ecological Question
Once the world’s fourth-largest saline body of water with an area of 68,000 km2, the Aral Sea has been steadily shrinking since the 1960s. The Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet Union irrigation projects. By 2004, the sea had shrunk to 25% of its original surface area, and a nearly fivefold increase in salinity had killed most of its natural flora and fauna. By 2007 it had declined to 10% of its original size, splitting into three separate lakes, 2 of these are too salty to support fish. The once prosperous fishing industry has been virtually destroyed, and former fishing towns along the original shores have become ship graveyards. This collapse has brought unemployment and economic hardship.
The Aral Sea is also heavily polluted, largely as the result of weapons testing, industrial projects, pesticides and fertilizer runoff. Wind-blown salt from the dried seabed damages crops, and polluted drinking water and salt and dust-laden air cause serious public health problems in the Aral Sea region. In the former fishing village of Moynaq, the sea has disappeared 200 km away from the shore, leaving a flat dry desert on which gas and oil platforms have been installed, some isolated several hours away by car from the closest villages.