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Published May 2002
LGVN Environmental - Inland Sea Disasters

The Aral Sea

The shrinking Aral Sea

Within just 20 years the fourth largest inland sea on earth turned into a dry, contaminated, toxic salt plain.

The Aral Sea, which crossed between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, was once a thriving environment until the 1960's when extensive irrigation schemes were put in place. River water which normally flowed into the Aral from the Tian Shan Mountains was diverted to irrigate cotton and rice fields. Now, huge amounts of this diverted water lay as stagnant pools across the vast, badly managed cotton and rice fields.
As a result the Aral has now lost more than 60% of its water.

Over 27,000 square kilometers of former sea bottom is now a dry, toxic wasteland. Salt and chemical fertilisers blow across these dry plains spreading the effects of the disaster far and wide. The fish have all died (since what is left of the sea is a toxic soup) and the health of the people, animal and plant life around what is left of the Aral are suffering. Any river water that still reaches the sea is highly contaminated with pesticides that seep from the rice and cotton fields. For the people around the Aral Sea, diseases like Typhoid fever, viral hepatitis, TB, throat cancer, anaemia, and tuberculosis are rife. Many children are born with defects.

A footnote about the Aral Sea Disaster: The locals around the Aral sea joke that if everyone who'd come to study this disaster had brought a bucket of water, the sea would be full by now.

The Black Sea

The Black Sea looks as if it is following the way of the Aral in terms of concentrated pollution. Many regions around its northern shores are using the sea as a dumping ground for chemical toxins. The fish are disappearing at an alarming rate. Unprincipled fishermen catch whatever they can, which means younger fish are caught prematurely, not giving them enough time to spawn a next generation. The results are obvious.

The Dead Sea

As with the Aral, the level of the Dead Sea is sinking rapidly due to extraction of water from rivers which supply it. Water from the Jordan and Yarmuk rivers is being extracted by Syria, Jordan and Israel. Any remaining water left is mostly evaporating before it can reach the sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth, lying in a deep valley way below normal sea levels and presents a unique environment. Environmental experts are calling for the revival of a canal project to ensure that it survives. This would draw water in from the Red Sea.

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