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History of the Aral Sea: from Antiquity to Present

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The results of the researches carried out under the Project Integrated Water Resources Management for Wetlands Restoration in the Aral Sea Basin being implemented under the NATO Program Science for Piece were published in the monograph South Priaralie: New Prospects printed by the Scientific-Information Center of ICWC in 2003.

The monograph was written by the team of authors under the editorship of Prof. Viktor Dukhovny and Dr. Joop de Schutter.

You can find some chapters from this monograph:


Introduction

enlarge The tragedy of Aral Sea disappearance is one of the most convincing and vivid cases against unbalanced activities undertaken by the human society neglecting sustainable development, which are so numerous in the creative and simultaneously destructive latter half of the 20th century. During this period the humanity not only had the unprecedented achievements in engineering development, but also damaged the nature more than ever. Such a predatory outrage upon the planet was caused by the impetuous technological revolution, which at that time had been declared as a watershed of the human history, until the most advanced people found that very grave environmental consequences were hidden behind its frontage.

Almost all current global climatic, hydrological, and geological cataclysms (not only in the former socialistic countries) - the green-house effect, losses of rivers, lakes and wetlands, wide-spread desertification are caused by ambitious aspiration of people as if to provide their well-being, but in fact mainly for increasing property, domination and power, and followed by disregard of the fact that everything in the world is interdependent and has its own consequences in the form of large scale disturbance or transformations of natural processes. Some countries in the West recognized the necessity "to be respectful to the nature and to repay their debts to it" as early as the 1970s and 1980s, and in that time the community in the USSR just began thinking about ecological problems and has seen things clearly only when being on the verge of its collapse.

At present, the peoples and governments of such countries as Canada, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, and Japan, which set an example for all mankind how to establish the interrelations with the nature, are worthy of gratitude and respect. They demonstrate how to integrate urbanization with preservation of fauna, flora, and landscapes on the basis of harmonizing interests of economic development and demographic growth with the environmental requirements and even raising a nature potential. In these countries, a partnership of people with the nature is based on profound respect and pride for natural resources belonging to their states, and worship of the nature which is inculcated from childhood.

Drying up the Aral Sea that was a large water body with good quality water has reached such an extent that widespread nature degradation inside the dried area (at elevations less than 53 m + BSL) and outside its boundaries has resulted in the situation when this region is the natural disaster zone. The sea, which was the habitat of abundant flora and fauna and a natural regulator of climate in the adjacent irrigated area, degrades to such an extent that the desertification zone located between deserts Kyzylkum, Karakum and Usturt is formed. Vast areas of solonchaks and strongly saline lands, being sources of salt and dust transfer due to wind erosion, have occurred here.

In the coastal zone (above the elevation of 53 m + BSL) the ecosystem of the delta and a coastal zone, which was formed during many centuries was completely damaged; the lakes dried up, salinity of water increased; solonchaks appeared at the sites of the dried marshes; catch of fish and furry animal significantly diminished; migratory birds disappeared; flora and fauna degrade; and the local climate undergoes a change.

The five independent states located in the Aral Sea basin — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — have properly evaluated the necessity of tackling the problem of the Aral Sea and Prearalie (a dried coastal zone). The Heads of these states approved the Concept, in which the proposal to establish a new sustainable anthropogenic-natural complex in the South Prearalie in order to rehabilitate the productivity of this territory as much as possible was formulated. However, due to economic decline after disintegration of the USSR, implementation of this program faces difficulties.

The existing ecological situation is of great concern for all peoples living both inside and outside the Aral Sea basin. As a result, there have appeared many plans and proposals in order to solve, to a greater or lesser extent, the following issues:

  • protecting the population from adverse impacts of desertification;
  • restoring fauna and flora diversity to a maximally possible extent;
  • creating workplaces for the local population by means of rehabilitation of fishery, muskrat breeding, cattle breeding, processing sectors, etc.;
  • creating appropriate social and economic conditions necessary for improving the local standard of living by means of introducing high-yielding technologies in the field of water and land resources use;
  • preventing further degradation of the environment, and rehabilitation the environmental balance in the South Prearalie.

Formerly, these issues had been addressed in two interrelated sustainable ecological zones (the Aral Sea and Prearalie) based on a certain hydrological regime of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers. Social-economic activity in the vicinity of the sea and in deltas had been tightly related to the water regime of these zones and their peculiarities and not intervened significantly in natural conditions. At present, it is necessary to rehabilitate the former situation as much as possible and to direct developing negative trends conversely. Numerous donors tried to assist the disaster epicenter, but they were not based on the integrated approach. Real actions were undertaken under support of the International Fund for the Aral Sea (IFAS) and the GEF, which initiated the projects for rehabilitating wetlands (the Sudoche Lake Rehabilitation Project) and some water bodies.