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Giulia Magnani | Aral

Moynaq, Uzbekistan – August 2012. Once a center of industrial fishing with a population of 150 thousand and Uzbekistan’s only port city, Moynaq is now a village of 2 thousand people. The fish factory closed in 1979 and today nothing remains of the port.

There was once the fourth largest lake in the world.
Now there are only two strips of clear water,
narrowed on a land scratched by dried salty furrows.
A violated nature can remember its shadow only when deformed.
One can float in the melancholy beauty of what has been and is no longer,
and what now remains but will not be there soon.

Seashore of the Aral Sea, Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan – August 2012. Large-scale irrigations for cotton production have been a major contributing factor to the shrinking of the Aral Sea since the late 1950s. In 2009, Uzbekistan was the 3rd world’s largest exporter of cotton.

Usturt plateau, Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan – August 2012. Fishermen’s cemetery of the Soviet period. Dissidents were sent working in Karakalpakstan, far away from the USSR.

Moynaq, Uzbekistan – August 2012. Once covered by water, the floor of the Aral Sea now reveals its dunes. The loss of the moderating influence of such a large body of water made winters colder and summers hotter and drier. The temperature can reach 50°C during the summer and – 40°C in winter.

Aralkum desert, Uzbekistan – August 2012. A new desert with an area of 4 million square kilometres has appeared on the seabed once occupied by the Aral Sea. During sandstorms, its sand can reach the Pamir Mountains and the Himalaya glaciers.

Seashore of the Aral Sea, Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan – August 2012. As the water supply to the Aral Sea decreased and the demand for cotton increased, the Soviet Union decided to pour more pesticides and fertilizers onto the land. The winds carried tons of salt and toxic sand throughout the region, affecting the health of more than five million people. There has been a dramatic spike in anemia, brucellosis, bronchial asthma and typhoid, while infant mortality rate is the highest in the area.

Seashore of the Aral Sea, Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan – August 2012. The Aral Sea, once up to 69 metres deep, today does not exceed 24 m deep. By 2007, the salinity has increased from 10 grams per litre to 110 g/L with the resulting disappearance of most of its flora and fauna. On average, seawater in the world’s oceans has a salinity of about 35 g/L.

Seashore of the Aral Sea, Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan – August 2012. “Aral Sea” – from the Kirghiz “Aral Denghiz” – means “Sea of Islands”, referring to more than a thousand islands that once dotted its waters.

Usturt plateau, Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan – August 2012. The changes that have afflicted the Sea since the 1960s are the products of human induced changes. Anyway, actual changes are also the result of an unproper environment’s reaction to the stresses that society has imposed on the area.

Moynaq, Uzbekistan – August 2012. The Aral Sea used to lap the town’s shores. Today Moynak is 180 kilometres far from the Sea, that had declined to 10% of its original size. A memorial has been built above the former shore of the Sea.

Usturt plateau, Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan – August 2012. While Kazakhstan has been conducting rescue measures for the Aral ecological disaster, across the Uzbek border no work has followed. The state-controlled gas concern, Uzbekneftegaz, has been prospecting for oil and gas deposits in the Aral Sea bed with Russian and Asian partners.

Moynaq, Uzbekistan – August 2012. A fleet of five hundred ships used to sail every day, coming back with seventy tons of fish. Today the former fishing towns along the original shores have become ship graveyards.

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