The Aral Sea: An Ecological
Aral sea in 1960: The Soviet Union diverted the Amu Darya and Syr Darya Rivers for
irrigation of one of the driest parts of Asia to produce rice, melons, cereals, and
The Soviets wanted cotton or “white gold” to become a major export.
They were successful and today Uzbekistan is one of the world's largest exporters of
cotton and Unfortunately this action essentially eliminated any river inflow to the
Aral Sea and caused it to disappear almost completely.
At the middle of the
twentieth century the Aral Sea
was the world’s fourth largest
lake, with a surface area of
approx. 66,900 km2
volume of 1,090 km3
The Aral Sea Historically a
saline lake, was Fed by the
Amu Darya and Syr Darya.
Source: The Aral Sea Disaster-Philip Micklin
•It lies in the republics of
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in
•The Aral Sea drainage
basin encompasses Uzbekistan
and parts of Tajikistan,
Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and
•Aral Sea has been steadily
shrinking since the 1960s.
•The shrinking of the Aral Sea
has been called "one of the
planet's worst environmental
In the 1960s Central Asia was assigned the role of ‘supplier of
Population doubled to 27 million by the 1980s
The Amu Darya delta was used to grow rice and cotton
Rapid irrigation development:
4.5million ha in 1960
7million ha in 1980
•1960: the Soviet Union undertook a major water diversion project on the arid
plains of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. The region’s two major
rivers were diverted for irrigation.
•Although irrigation made the desert bloom, it devastated the Aral Sea.
2001: the southern connection had been severed, and the shallower eastern part
retreated rapidly over the next several years.
2005-2009: Especially large retreats in the eastern lobe of the Southern Sea
occurred, when drought limited and then cut off the flow of the Amu Darya.
As the lake dried up, fisheries and the communities that depended on them
collapsed. The increasingly salty water became polluted with fertilizer and
pesticides. The blowing dust from the exposed lakebed, contaminated with
agricultural chemicals, became a public health hazard.
2009-2014: Water levels then fluctuated annually in alternately dry and wet
years. Dry conditions in 2014 caused the Southern Sea’s eastern lobe to
completely dry up for the first time in modern times.
The salty dust blew off the lakebed and settled onto fields, degrading the soil.
Croplands had to be flushed with larger and larger volumes of river water. The
loss of the moderating influence of such a large body of water made winters
colder and summers hotter and drier.
Degradation over the years
This part of the Aral Sea is showing major year-to-year variations that are dependent on flow of Amu Darya.
Source: NASA, Encyclopædia Britannica
The Aral sea began to shrink.
Increased salinisation: The mineral content of the lake went from 10g/L
to 40g/L (sea water is 35g/L). This was poisonous to most species of fish and
other wildlife. 60,000 people abandoned their livelihoods in fishing.
Health issues: Chemicals and salts had contaminated the surface and
ground water supplies leading to TB, Cancers, heart problems, asthma and
blood diseases increased dramatically
Increased mortality rate (especially children).
The central planners had not foreseen the possibility of desertification: by
1990 .95% of wetlands and marshes had become deserts. The climate of
the region was changed.
Dust storms occur on 90 days per year.
Exposed soils are erroded by strong NE winds: every year 100 million
tonnes of chemical and salt laden dust is blown for thousands of miles.
• Water levels have decreased significantly
• Salinity has increased six-fold
• Basin climate has changed
• Wind erosion is increased
• Salt deposits are increasing, causing damage to crops, power lines,
and land fertility as well as introducing health problems
• Aquifer levels have dropped and aquifer water quality is deteriorated
• Forest areas have declined
• Lake navigation is impossible
• Fish stocks are gone
• Cancer occurrences are on the rise
Due to decades of improper allocation of water resources, the current status
of the Aral Sea is quite grim. Results of mismanagement include the
Aral Sea Today
10 % of it’s original size
Water level has dropped approximately 23 meters
Water resources polluted and severely mismanaged
6 kinds of fish vs. 32 kinds in the original waters
160 kinds of birds vs. 319 kinds in the original
32 kinds of mammals vs. 70 kinds originally
More than 50 large lakes around the area have dried
Mass deforestation along Amudaria river bed
Aral Sea Today
130,000 people were affected
US$115 mln - accumulated economic losses
US$28.8 mln – accumulated social losses
High inflation, unemployment and poverty rates
No drinking water within the radius of 200 km
High mortality rates including infant mortality
High number of life-threatening diseases
4 projects - 140M US$
Decontamination of the Anthrax burial sites
Aral Sea Area Drought Relief Project - 150000$
UN Aral Sea Programme: This organization has had two primary foci:
strengthening regional organizations that have been established to
deal with the Aral crisis and promoting sustainable development to
improve conditions for the several million people who live in the
disaster zone adjacent to the sea.
Islamabad Initiative on Saving and Rehabilitation of Aral Sea:
An Islamabad-based think tank, Sustainable Development Policy
Institute (SDPI) has established a working group on saving the Aral
Sea, which will focus only on transboundary water management
and the environmental, economic and energy issues of Central Asia.
Aral Sea Basin program : In 1994, the five countries: Kazakhstan,
Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan adopted the
Aral Sea Basin Program.
The Program’s four objectives were:
To stabilize the environment of the Aral Sea Basin
To rehabilitate the disaster area around the sea
To improve the management of the international waters of the
Aral Sea Basin
To build the capacity of institutions at the regional and national
level to advance the program’s aims.
ASBP: Phase One
The first phase of the plan effectively began with the first involvement from the World Bank in 1992
It was ineffectual for a number of reasons, but mainly because it was focused on improving directly
the land around the Aral Sea, whilst not intervening in the water usage upstream.
ASBP: Phase Two
Phase Two of the Aral Sea Basin program , where the scheme was drawn by world bank followed in
1998 and ran for five years. The main shortcomings of phase two were due to its lack of integration
with the local communities involved.
ASBP Phase Three
In 1997, a new plan was conceived which would continue with the previous restoration efforts of the
Aral Sea. The main aim of this phase was to improve the irrigation systems currently in place, whilst
targeting water management at a local level.
The largest project in this phase is the North Aral Sea Project, a direct effort to recover the northern
region of the Aral Sea.
North Aral Sea
Project- Status Work is being done to restore in part of North Aral Sea. Irrigation works
on the Syr Darya have been repaired and improved to increase its water
2003: the Kazakh government announced a plan to build Dike Kokaral, a
concrete dam separating the two halves of the Aral Sea.
2005:Work on this dam was completed; since then, the water level of the
North Aral has risen, and its salinity has decreased.
2006: Some recovery of sea level has been recorded, sooner than
expected. Economically significant stocks of fish have returned. The
restoration reportedly gave rise to long-absent rain clouds and possible
microclimate changes, bringing tentative hope to an agricultural sector
swallowed by a regional dustbowl, and some expansion of the shrunken
The UNDP attempted to provide clean water to 426 communities.
However many pumps were faulted or installed incorrectly.
With US funding, the Agency for International Development has
implemented two projects:
A reverse osmosis plant at Dashhowuz in Turkmenistan
Chlorination facilities in the Amu Darya Delta
The International Aral Sea Rehabilitation Fund (IFAS) and 55 Muslim
countries have raised funds to begin a range of programmes to
stabilise the ecosystem and improve water management.
800 large water-pipe systems have been installed, bringing fresh
water to 29 settlements.
Additionally, created hospitals, jobs and pension plans to assist
those directly and indirectly affected by disease and unemployment.
It can be observed that the Aral Sea crisis is the
result of a large and brutal human impact,
followed by the interaction between complex
mechanisms present in nature.
The fragility of the balance present in nature
combined with vast and abrupt changes due to
human society triggered an immensely
complex set of changes in the environment,
some of which were irreversible.
Thresholds have been crossed, and while that
cannot be changed, it is still worth the effort of
reversing some of the feedback loops.
The Aral Sea: An Ecological Disaster By: I.Rudenko And J.P.A.Lamers
An Independent Evaluation Of The World Bank’s Support Of Regional
Programs :Case Study Of The Aral Sea Water And Environmental
Management Project By Shawki Barghouti
Introduction To Environmental Management: Politics, Policy And
Management ,Case Study 3 The Aral Sea, Kazakhstan And Uzbekistan