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Disappearance of the Aral Sea, One of the Biggest Man-made Disasters

A comparison of the Aral Sea in 1989 (left) and 2014 (right).
A comparison of the Aral Sea in 1989 (left) and 2014 (right).

Aral Sea, the one that was once the biggest land-locked lake, providing food and jobs to thousands, is now only history. And people have only themselves to blame.

We have learnt to live with natural disasters- hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes. Although some might argue whether or not the severity of these has increased due to human activity, we can all agree that without people on the planet, these disasters would have still occurred.

However, the story is quite different when it comes to man-made natural disasters. Here on GreenOptimistic, we have covered quite a number of those, especially related to pollution. Now, it seems it is time to show a bit more of another major trigger for destruction of the environment-  “poor management decisions driven by greed”.

The particular example is the Aral Sea.

Not even half a century ago, the Aral Sea was once known as the largest lake in the world, located mostly in Kazakhstan, on the border with Uzbekistan. Entirely land-locked, with water flow coming from two major rivers. In the early 1960s, these two rivers were diverted by Soviet irrigation projects. As a consequence, the Aral Sea began to shrink.

According to the locals, slowly the water became more and more saline. Fishermen, who were once making substantial living from these waters, began to catch dead fish. Some people say that even the tips of the grass became salty, which affected the grazing animals. For example, camels began to experience major headaches. In order to cope with these, the animals were hitting their heads in the ground until they died.

The interest in the region also began to decline. The population began to migrate away, as they could not make a living. Factories closed down as the region slowly turned into a desert.

Some scientists claim that the disappearance of the Aral sea had a direct influence on climate change. They say that while it was in its original size, the Aral Sea acted as a softening buffer of the Siberian winds in the winter, and was cooling the area during summer. Unfortunately, the precise influence on temperature cannot be estimated, as the increase in temperature is characteristic for the entire Central Asian region. However, two independent studies, following completely different methods, came to the same conclusion.

Luckily, people started to realize what a major disaster this has been. Recently, the World Bank funded a project to construct a dam. Slowly, the water began to accumulate again, bringing a glimpse of hope to the few, who still live in the region.

The town of Aral, however, has not seen its water back yet. The locals hope that their grandchildren might be lucky to have the Aral Sea, the beach and the fish. But only time will show. For now, they should try to make a living out of the desert-like land.

Image (C) NASA

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  1. Not even half a century ago, the Aral Sea was once known as the largest lake in the world,

    Uh… no. That would be the Caspian Sea (I am assuming that you are defining lake to include endorheic basins – like the Caspian and Aral Seas – as well as bodies of water that have rivers that drain into the ocean, but not any bodies of water that have two-way contact with the ocean).


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