NewsAral Sea disappears: gigantic environmental disaster has devastating consequences

Aral Sea disappears: gigantic environmental disaster has devastating consequences

The Aral Sea was once one of the largest inland lakes on earth. Now researchers are fighting on site against one of the largest human-made environmental disasters.

Mujnak – In the former port town of Mujnak, rusted ships lie in the desert sand under a sea of clouds. The water has been gone for decades. Of the huge Aral Sea, which once provided life in Uzbekistan and the rest of Central Asia, only display boards are left here that document its disappearance.

The salt water lake, also known as the inland sea, has been drying up for more than 60 years. It has long since disintegrated into individual parts. The northern part in the Central Asian Republic of Kazakhstan has stabilized according to the government there. Fish even live there again. Here in the western section in Uzbekistan, however, a barren landscape that is rugged due to erosion and rock breaks opens up.

The United Nations see the region as “a symbol of the destruction of the planet by man”. In the western part alone, the water retreats 500 meters annually, as studies show. 90 percent of the lake, as it appeared in 1960, has now disappeared. According to the International Fund to Save the Aral Sea, it continues to dry up. “Another five to seven years – and the process will be irreversible,” says the head of the fund, Vadim Sokolow, in the Uzbek capital Tashkent.

Aral Sea: First the fish died, then tens of thousands of people lost their jobs

In addition to the large Karakum and Kyzylkum deserts in the region, the new Aralkum has now been added to the dried up basin. “The danger of this new desert lies in the fact that enormous masses of salt and ultra-fine dust are blown into the atmosphere from there,” explains Sokolow. The hydraulic engineer complains that health problems in people such as kidney and liver diseases, diseases of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, cancer and tuberculosis are noticeable. In addition, there is massive species extinction in the flora and fauna, says the expert.

With 270 grams of minerals per liter of water, the western part of the Aral Sea is so salty that fish can no longer live in it. “In 1960 there were 30 species of fish, 20 of which were usable,” says Sokolow. 40,000 tons of fish were caught per year up to the 1960s. As the amount of water decreased, the lake became increasingly salty. First the fish died, then tens of thousands of people lost their jobs – in fishing, agriculture and animal husbandry because ultimately the soil became sterile.

Sokolov has a long answer ready when asked about the disappearance of the water. “The reasons for this ecological tragedy are that humans have lost morality, conscience and responsibility for nature. Agriculture and industrialization brought about death. ”Sokolov says that despite early warnings, water was diverted from the two largest rivers, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, which feed the lake, for example for agricultural purposes.

The Aral Sea was once almost as big as Bavaria, today only ten percent is left

The lake once had an area of around 69,000 square kilometers – almost the size of Bavaria. With around 1080 cubic kilometers (km3), the inland sea once had a climate-regulating function. Only ten percent are left today. To maintain this level, says Sokolow, seven to eleven cubic kilometers of water are required per year. “We only have two cubic kilometers, so not even a third.” One km3 is 1,000 billion liters of water.

The Uzbek President Shawkat Mirsiyoyev sees it as one of his most important political goals to bring life back to the region. The country wants to use its vast areas for solar and wind energy systems, for example, he says. The share of renewable energies should increase to 25 percent by 2030. Drinking water wells are also being drilled and desalination plants installed in order to save the last places in the Aral region from extinction. The water-intensive cotton production has also decreased. There are also considerations to develop tourism on the model of the Dead Sea in Israel.

The head of the Fund for the Rescue of the Aral Sea, Sokolow, sees a problem not least in the fact that there are too many beautiful projects on paper, but no money for them. “The money comes in a teaspoon,” says Sokolow, who receives two million US dollars (1.77 million euros) a year for his fund.

It will take hundreds of millions of dollars to save the Aral Sea

400 million US dollars alone would be needed to build the necessary infrastructure so that the status quo could be maintained. There are dozens of organizations and countless projects and aid programs, says Sokolow. But there is a lack of coordination. There is a lot of action, but hardly any real help.

Sokolow does not want to give up, but sees little chance of stopping the disappearance of the lake, which many have already given up. “We have lost decades by doing nothing.” There is a lack of precipitation. In addition, the desert region continues to heat up. This causes the water to evaporate. The Aral Sea shows that just one generation is enough to bring one of the largest and most beautiful inland waters on earth to the verge of disappearing. (msc / dpa)

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