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Aral Sea


The Aral Sea in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan was one of the largest inland seas in the world. Just short time ago it was the world‘s 4th in size drainless water reservoir and was famous for its fish deposits. Both the sea itself and the rivers that flowed into it (Amudarya (Oxus) and Syrdarya (Yaksart) were of primary ecological and economical importance. These rivers and their flow cross borders on six countries; one of them is Afghanistan, which hasn't started the serious use of the Amudarya water yet because of a long war. Water of Syrdarya and its tributaries is being shared among Kyrgizstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Water of Amudarya and its tributaries is being divided among Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Flows of these two rivers are being formed in Pamir and Tyan-Shan Mountains.
Deltas of Amudarya and Syrdarya rivers that were falling into it were flourishing oases. Until 1961 year the sea level stood stable with depth of 16 meters in average and 69 meters in maximum. The original surface area of the sea was 65,000 square kilometres - equal to the combined surface area of the Netherlands and Belgium, spreading on 435 kilometers from north to south and 290 kilometers from west to east. The sea volume was equal to 1 thousand cubic kilometers. The Aral Sea received Amudarya and Syrdarya river waters in 55 cubic km. annual volume. 22 kinds of fish inhabited the Aral Sea. The sea level began to drop quickly as a result of water distributing for irrigation purposes. In 1989 the sea became split into two parts, the water volume decreased by 80 %, the surface decreased by 35 thousand square kilometers, and the sea shore shrunk by 100 - 150 km. The sea flora and fauna eliminated completely, the salt concentration reached 70%. The salinity of the Sea reaches 60 g/l. If in the beginning of the 1950’s the amount of the flow from both rivers in the Aral Sea was 100 cubic km per a year, now Aral gets only about 2 - 3 cubic km of water yearly.
The small island Vozrojdenie in the center of the Sea has become a peninsula which is very dangerous because it used to be a test site for biological weapons. The sea itself is surrounded by three deserts. By Kyzylkum (that means Red Sands) on the East, by Karakum (Black Sands) on the South, and by stone plateau Ustyurt on the West, Kazakh steppes to the North. What was once a sea has now been reduced to a dry and polluted desert. Quite soon the place used to be the Sea is going to be called Aralkum (that means Aral Sands). According to specialists‘ forecasts the sea can flee its shores forever until 2010 - 2015.
Population, living in the basin of both rivers is about 45 million people. Among them there are 5 million who are living in the both deltas where namely the catastrophe are developing.
Shrinkage of the Aral Sea is resulting in growing concentrations of chemical pesticides and natural salts; these substances are then blown from the increasingly exposed lake bed and contribute to desertification; water pollution from industrial wastes and the heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides is the cause of many human health disorders; increasing soil salination; soil contamination from buried nuclear processing and agricultural chemicals, including DDT.
If you visit Karakalpakistan in the summer, you get the impression that you have wandered into a snow - covered steppe instead of a desert covered with salt. The local population maintains that twenty years ago or so this was still unusual for the area. Around the capital of Karakalpakistan you can see the former course of the Amu - Darya, over three kilometers wide; today most of this territory is covered in sand and the river, even in the wettest years, is no more than 100 meters across.