Every year 150 million tons of poisonous dust is carried by wind from the bottom of the drying Aral Sea worldwide. It is inhaled by inhabitants of Asia, Europe and even rare inhabitants of Antarctica. The defeat zone from consequences of the most large-scale environmental disaster of mankind has gone out of Central Asia long ago, demanding urgent measures from the world.
A frequent picture for Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan is desert landscapes of the cities which are filled up with white flakes mixed up with sand. The southern or Big Aral Sea has dried almost completely, and salt clouds cover with storms the cities of the countries adjacent to the pool. The picture is absolutely apocalyptic: empty streets, the dense gray hazes closing the horizon, and light of searchlights reminding that people still live here. In recent years such storms began to happen even more often. As if the sea revenges the person for what he has once made.
The Aral Sea prior to becoming shallow was the fourth lake in the world in size, an oasis in the Central Asian desert which fed all adjacent cities. There was both a fishery, and the resort area. But from the 60th the lake sea began to dry up by efforts of the Soviet authorities which initiated analysis feeding Aral Sea of Amu Darya and the Syr Darya on irrigation of cotton and rice fields. The Aral Sea has died even quicker, than his executioners, the Soviet academicians from agriculture thought. The oasis has turned into the cracked white desert with islands of the rusted ships and prickly tumbleweed, and became ideal scenery for shooting movies about doomsday and depressive music videos.
Accident scale in the coastal countries was realized not at once. The USSR has collapsed; the Central Asian republics tasted independence. When they have realized — the patient, as they say, already “was rather dead, than alive”.
Since then the era of projects on rescue of the Aral Sea has begun. And different scenarios were offered! Sometimes the most improbable: for example, to dig out the channel from the Caspian Sea to Aral or to turn the Siberian rivers and to dump to the Aral Sea water from the Ob and Irtysh. But these projects though were technically feasible, could lead to other environmental disasters. Therefore the option, not so cardinal, but quite safe for other ecosystem, has been chosen: divisions of the sea and rescue each part separately.
Northern part was saved by Kazakhstan. The construction of the Kokaralsky dam was started to stop the water going to sands. When the dried-up pool began to be filled with water, biologists have undertaken restoration of flora and fauna. Efforts weren’t vain: now water level in the Small Aral Sea reaches fifty meters, concentration of salt in liter was reduced so that the reservoir became suitable for fish which number of types already exceeds two tens.
The example of revival of the Small Aral Sea gives hope to scientists on the fact that it is possible to reanimate the Big Aral Sea too. But financial support, political will and competent scientific approach are necessary for this purpose. First, it is necessary to improve the outdate irrigation canals in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Secondly, to refuse maintenance of small reservoirs in the delta of Amu Darya which evaporate in the summer. These streams can be directed to filling of the western part of the Big Aral Sea where still there is water. Thirdly, it is necessary to refuse cultivation of hygrophilous cultures which, despite ecological disaster, continue to grow up in the same industrial scales in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
These are some projects which could give chance of life to the Big Aral Sea. In the long term it is much more options. For consideration of the International Fund of Rescue of the Aral Sea and the governments of the countries of the region more than 70 projects are submitted now. Other countries are ready to be connected to their realization, because they understand that the drying-up sea is the general problem which consequences if not to stop, will have around the world for a long time. Already now the number injured with drying of the Aral Sea exceeds 5 million people. These are people who are diagnosed respiratory diseases, gullet diseases, throat cancer and even blindness against the background of environmental disaster.
The possibilities of resuscitation of the lake sea in Turkmenistan will be considered on August 24 by heads of the founder states of the International fund of rescue of the Aral Sea. The meeting is special. At least because last time delegates of this forum met 9 years ago. And there were many urgent reasons for negotiations for this period but disagreements on this matter prevented them.
Now a tendency to rapprochement is observed among players of the region. The Central Asian states show intention to agree even upon the most problem points of the general agenda. It is necessary to hope that the Aral Sea won’t become an exception. If the coastal countries agree and will decide on the action plan then the international donors will also join the process.
According to such scheme there was a restoration of the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan. The country has accurately designated the action plan and has shown gravity of intentions. Thanks to it the republic has attracted two loans of the World Bank under the project which has received the name “Regulation of the Bed of the Syr Darya River and Preservation of a Northern Part of the Aral Sea”. The total cost of two of its phases is more than 200 million dollars.
Estimates of projects on rescue of the Big Aral Sea, probably, will be many times more considerable, but judging by concern of the world community and frightening estimates of the international researchers about consequences of full drying of the sea, it is obvious that there shouldn’t be problems with financial support. The main thing is political will of countries connected by uniform water system with the drying reservoir and the rivers feeding it.
So, if Uzbekistan declares determination to save the sea, then the authorities of the country have to understand that for the sake of it, perhaps, it is necessary to cancel projects on exploration and production of oil and gas at the bottom of the dried-up pool. It is necessary to choose between ecology, health of the population and still illusive income from production of hydrocarbons.
Yes, the choice will be difficult. But now it is important to realize that other chance cannot be any more. Rescue of the Aral Sea is still possible now. It is not a fiction. The sea can be revived. It may be not in its former state but in a suitable one to support an ecosystem and to reanimate economy of coastal territories. And then the revived Aral Sea will give much more opportunities to the countries of the region, than any projects on the place where it once was.
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