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Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Requiem for the Aral Sea


Author(s): Norman Precoda
Source: Ambio, Vol. 20, No. 3/4 (May, 1991), pp. 109-114
Published by: Springer on behalf of Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4313794
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Article

Norman
Precoda

RequiemfortheAra e
teorological
stationsat the shoresof the
weresubsequently
estheSyrand Amu,theAralSea's twomain sea." Such stations
waterfrom
ofirrigation
Heavywithdrawals
andthecollectedsynoptical
data
theirspillsand led to a sharp tablished
have forall practicalpurposeseliminated
tributaries,
Berg'sideas(2). Uponmeeting
the
in confirm
of ecologicalequilibrium
decrease inthelevelofthesea. Thisand thedisruption
fromthe
of immensecolumnof evaporation
consequences forboththeinhabitants
thisimmenseregionhave had catastrophic
thecoldairwaslifted
togreat
The circumstancesleadingup to and important sea's surface
theregionand fortheenvironment.
heights
and,
thousands
of
travelling
consequences are described.
featuresofsome oftheprincipal
kilometers,
came down to replenishthe
etemalsnowsand glaciersof thedistant
Pamirsand Tyan-Shans.Meltingsnows
THE BLUE SEA
oneoftheplanetEarth'smostancient
seas, gavelifetomountain
rivers
andthuswater,
interest
becauseof andlife,to thelandandpeople."In every
Locatedto theEast of theCaspianSea in theAralis ofparticular
changesthathaveoccurred dropofwater,"
theheartof aridSovietCentralAsia (Fig. theremarkable
goestheold CentralAsian
"there
is a grainofgold."
ofthebar- in bothareaandvolumeofthesea in geo- saying,
1),theAralSea is atthejunction
times.
Forcenturies
theboundaries
oftheAral
and logicallyrecent
and theKyzylkum
renPlatoUstyurt
For millennia
theenormous
expanseof Sea remainedessentially
in
its shoresinterrupted
Karakumdeserts,
unchanged,
the
CentralAsia fromthe sea level fluctuating
betweenapproxithenortheast
bythedeltaoftheSyrDarya theAral protected
ba- mately
50 and53 meters
(River)andinthesouthbythatoftheAmu. cold northwinds"Such an enormous
abovesealevel(4).
L.S. Bergin his From1850to 1965,forexample,
ofislandswerethebasis sin,"wroteAcademician
Itsmanyhundreds
thelowest
Monografi, levelobservedwas 3 meters
forthenamegivenitby theKirgiz,"Aral OpytFiziko-Geograficheskoy
belowthe52
doubthavea moderat- metersabove sea levelobservedin 1943.
Dengiz"(Sea ofIslands),andthedeepblue 1908,"mustwithout
climate.To Thus,the 900 millimeters
colorof its watersfortheearlierRussian ingeffecton thesurrounding
thicklayerof
thisonemusthavea number
ofme- waterlosttoevaporation
name,"SinyeyeMorye"(Blue Sea) (1). As clarify
(0.9 km3per1000
Figure1. CentralAsian republicsand Kazakhstan.
0

?o0

o~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~c

Republic boundaries

~~~~

Oblast boundaries
Oblasts shown C - Chardzhous, TurkmenSSR
- Maryysk,
H~~~~
A - Ashkhabad,

K - Kzyl-Ordinsk, Kazakh SSR

VOj

||

Canal

jl_._Karak

ABVON
AMBIO
OL.
20NO.\3-,
MAY/991

40?

.4,,/

_S

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10

610
610
600'
590
km2of surface),the precipitation
of ap6 km3,and the surfaceand
proximately
subsurface
inflowswerein stableequilib- 470
470
rium(3). Although
theAralSea hasnooutk~~~~Arls
a
l
s
A
r
saline:
letthewaterswereonlymoderately
ofitstwo
1.0to 1.1%,farfromthemouths
tributaries
andup to 1.4%on thesoutheast
shores(4).
Beforethe 1950s,theAralSea had an
area, includingislands,of approximately
64 500 km2and at 53 m above sea level
contained
a littleover1000km3of water.
thesea canbe dividedinto
Geographically,
threesections(Fig. 2), in termsof area, 460-46
depth,and bottomrelief.The relatively
Kulanida Pen.
4
smallbodyin thenortheast
calledMaloye
is
Morye(LittleSea) separated
byKokaral
XBol soyelorye
X
>
Mo
IslandfromtheBolshoyeMorye(Big Sea).
The latteris practically
divisiblealonga
north-south
fromMuynakin the
meridian,
,-)
i
,, bo0
f
southto KulandaPeninsulain thenorth,
A
R
AL
SE
A
into eastem and westemparts.Maloye
Morye,about9% ofthearea,hadan aver450
ozrozhdeniya/
age depthof 18 m. The westempartof
BolshoyeMorye,about21% ofthearea,60
m at itsdeepestandaveraging
22 m,containedmorethan28% ofthetotalvolume.
Theeastempartwithmorethan70% ofthe
areaandtwo-thirds
ofthevolumewasrelativelyshallow,the 10-misobathrunning
some60 kmfromtheshore.The eastem
shoreis lowandsandywitha greatnumber
ofshallowbaysandoffshore
islands(4-6).
Notonlydid theAralSea constitute
an 440
d',
t
440r : ,
/
important,
and economicalshipping
route
betweenMuynakand Aralsk,the chief
portsand economiccentersof theregion,
butitwasalso thesourceofannualcatches
of 45 000-50000 tonsof fish(sturgeon,
carp,bream,pike-perch,
barbel,roachand
others)and morethana millionmuskrat
pelts.The seemingly
limitless
reedgrowth
on theshoresprovided
therawmaterial
for
the Kzyl-Ordinsk
Cellulose and Carton
Combine.Morethana quarter
ofa million
6f00
6io
6120
5lP)
hectares
oftugayforests
(fringing
forests
of
moisture-loving
treesand shrubs)in the
Amudelta,wheremigrant
birdsnestedand Figure 2. Aral Sea at 53 meters above sea level (at the end of the 1950s) (5).
rareanimalslived,provided
highly
productivenearlyyear-round
pastures
andwerea
natural
barrier
againstall formsoferosion
Perhapstheprincipal
factordistinguish-conceivedandbuiltbyourforefathers,
and
(5, 7, 8).
ingtheindirect
fromthedirectcausesand thewaterwas crystal
clearandfresh.The
To theend of the 1950s theAral Sea consequences
is thattheformer
arenotin- mountains
werethencoveredwithforests;
couldbe describedin theseterms.Begin- evitable,i.e. circumstances
can be envi- nowtheyarebaldandthere
is nowater.
The
ninginthe1960s,however,
thelarge-scale sionedwhereone or a number
of factors, Kyarizhavecrumbled
andfallenin"(9).
expansionof irrigation
in the mighthave playedno rolewhatsoever
agriculture
or
Previousdevelopment
of irrigated
agribasin, especiallycottoncrops began to onlya minorone.In theabsence,ofthese culture
didnotreducetheriverspillintothe
havefar-reaching
consequences.
factors,however,the ecologicaldisaster Aral,becausetheareasdeveloped
werepriThe AralSea does notexistin isolation wouldnothave been averted,butwould marilyin valleysand riverdeltas,areas
butas an integral
partof an immense
and merely
haveunfolded
moreslowly.
withabundant
moisture.
After
draining
and
extremely
complexecologicalsystemof
clearingtheseareasof reedgrowths
they
interconnected
elements.Consequently,
weretransformed
intogranaries
andoften
AralSea
significant
changesin the sea resultsin The Shrinking
thewaterusedwaslessthanthatutilized
by
markedchangesin otherpartsof thetotal Forthousands
ofyearsthewaters
oftheSyr themoisture-loving
plantswhichgrewin
system
withtheresult
thatanecologicalca- and Amu wereutilizedby thepeopleof thearea.Consequently,
thewaterbalanceof
tastrophe
is nowunfolding
in theAralSea Central
Asiatogrowcropsinthedesertoa- theAralSea wasnotaffected.
basinand it is farfromcertainthatthese ses to whichwaterwas brought
withthe
This situation
howeverchanged.Techdisastrous
consequences
willbe limitedto helpofirrigation
networks,
"To thepresent nologicaladvancesmadepowerful
equipthebasin.
time," says K. Chagylov,Turkmenia's mentavailableforuseinagricultural
operaIt is useful,in discussing
themanyand Minister
ofHealth,"I remember
theinimi- tions.The construction
ofhugecanalsbecomplexinteracting
developments
in the tabletasteofthewaterofmychildhood.
I camefeasible,andpermitted
of
irrigation
area,to dividetheminto3 groups;i) the grewupina smallvillageinthedesert.
The landsat higher
elevations
andhundreds
of
shrinking
Aral Sea; ii) directcauses and watercameto us fromthemountains
via a kilometers
awayfrom
therivers
anddeltas.
consequences;
iii) indirect
causesandcon- system
ofKyariz(almosthorizontal
irriga- The economiesoftheCentralAsianresequences.
tion tunnelslinkingunderground
wells) publicsandofKazakhstan,
inthe
especially
|

110

AMBIO VOL. 20 NO. 3-4, MAY 1991

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Theenclosed
ofthesea will lations.
postwaryears,experienced
thatthedisappearance
lacustrine
unprecedentedthem,
depressions,
theregion'slandscapes"
narrowembayments
development.
Thedriveforexpandedagri- notaffect
and lagoons have
(14).
of thisview prevailed gradually
cultural
output
andinparticular,
for"cotton The proponents
turned
intowetsolonchak,
some
waspressedhardunderthe and all plans workedout in thepostwar ofwhichhavedried,becoming
independence,"
saltdeposits
slogansofthetimes:"Producemillionsof yearsforthefuture
use of thewaterand ofuptoa meter
thickwithreserves
ofupto
tonsofcotton
atanycost," and"fulfill
The landresources
of theSyrandAmubasins 4000 tonsof saltperha. Herethetopmost
Plan,atanycost"(10-12). All attempts
to recommended
thewholeof their 15-cmlayerconsists
utilizing
ofsodium
chloride
that
pointto thecostsof achieving
thesegoals flowsforirrigation
(3, 18).Therecommen- formsa hardcrustovertheloose sodium
weremetwithan "irontaboo"(9).
dationssealedthefateoftheAralSea and sulfate(8). The saltcontent
of theyoung
Theareasofirrigated
inCen- also ledto,butdidnotforesee,
agriculture
someofthe solonchaksand theirwindbometransfer
tralAsia and Kazakhstangrewfrom2.9 disastrous
andfar-reaching
constitutes
seriousdangerforthe
consequences. eastward
hain 1950tothepresent
million
7.2 million
plantsand soils of theagricultural
areas.
ha.Thismeantheavywithdrawals
fromthe
The saltydustparticlessettleon cotton
SyrandAmuandtheirtributaries.
Yet ad- DIRECTCAUSES AND
plantations
andricefields
andharvests
deditionalwithdrawals
are in progress.For CONSEQUENCES
teriorate.
Scientists
haveestimated
thatup
335-meter Disruption
example,thenearlycompleted
oftheage-oldnatural
tons(100million
to
ecological to75 million
according
highRogunDam on the VakhshRiver, equilibrium
in the Aral basin caused by morerecent
data)offinedustparticles
and
oftheAmu,willenablestorage
of markedshrinking
tributary
of theAralSea has led, saltsaretransported
bywindseachyear.In
5 km3 ofwater,
fortheirrigationinexorably,
tomarked
providing
changesinnumerous theAralregion,an averageof as muchas
of300 000 ha (13). In thecase oftheAmu, elements
oftheecologicalcomplex.
520 kgofsandandsaltsfallon eachha of
moreover,
waterwas also diverted
via the
land(18,20).
KarakumCanal, westwardacrosspractiTheuppersoilhorizons
inthedeltaofthe
callythewholeofTurkmenia.
WithdrawalsClimaticChanges
Amu withtheirdepositsof fine-grained
from
therivers
totheAralto Formillenia
causedinflows
theAralSea hasbeena barrier sandsand loamsthataccumulated
during
fallan averageofover50 km3annually
be- protecting
Central
Asia from
thecoldnorth themanychannelshifts
overtheyearsare
tween1930and 1960(fluctuating
between winds.On meeting
theenormous
massesof nowbeingblownaboutbythewindsform33 and64 km3),to 35.2km3in 1970,to 10 vaporrisingfromits surfaceand being ingsanddunesandhillocks,
andgivingrise
km3by1980and1-5km3inthe1980s.The liftedto greatheights,
themoisture-ladento sandstorms
whichtogether
withthedust
last two yearshave been abundant
water airwascarried
ofkilometers,
thousands
re- alsoraisethesaltcrystals
thataredeposited
yearsin thebasin.Together,
theSyrand plenishingthe snow and ice on distant atlongdistances
(8).
Amuspilled10 km3 in 1987and,so far,18 mountains.
The markeddepletionof the
Windswhichpreviously
moisbrought
in 1988.As a resultthe85-90 cm yearly AralSea weakenedthisbarrier
againstthe turefromtheAralSea nowtransport
mildropin thelevel of the sea (evaporative cold northwinds,exacerbating
growing lionsoftonsof salts.Theseplumesareallosses) fell to 23 cm. (To maintainthe conditions
forcotton.
think ready contaminating
"Climatologists
crops in Bukhara,
present
levelrequires
inflowto theAralof thatforcotton-growing,
theCentralAsian Navoyand Samarkand.
Hundreds
of kiloabout35 km3peryear(14, 15).
regionwillbe lostpermanently".
gramsofsaltsfallon everyhectare
(10).
ofirriBy 1988, the level of the Aral had
The climatein theAralSea region,ac- gatedlandoverthewholeofKarakalpakia,
droppedby morethan12 meters,
thevol- cordingto USSR State Committeeon Bukhara, Khorezm and Kzyl-Ordinsk
umeof waterdecreasedby 60%, thesur- Hydrometeorology
data (Izvestiya,15/9- oblasts(7) (largeadministrative
divisions).
faceareanearlyhalved,andthesalinity
al- 90), is sharply
changing
fortheworse.The Previously,
thechiefrecipient
of salts,the
mosttripled.
Byearly1990thesea's falling absolutemaximum
averagedailytempera- Aralis nowtheprincipal
of salts.
supplier
levelhad finally,
and firmly,
reducedthe tureis increasing
andreaches470Cin the Itis estimated
thatwiththeAralSea drying
Araltotwowaterbodies,
separated
bya belt summer,
minus170Cinthewinter.
up,fivemillionha of developed,
irrigated
ofdrylandmorethana 100meters
wideat
landwillbecomesaline(14). Thesaltsalso
itsnarrowest
point(16) (Fig. 3). The exsettleon and damageelectricpowerlines,
posed former
seabed is now coveredby WindErosion
erodeconcretestructures,
destroyfertile
solonchak(whitealkalisoil). It has been TheAralSea was also a baffier
againstthe land,andundermine
health(21).
estimated
thatbytheyear2010theAralSea drying
effects
of thewindsand,withthe
Butthedamaging
effects
ofthemorefrewillnolongerexist(17).
barrier weakened, drying winds and quentlyoccurring
salt-duststorms
are not
TheAralhasexperienced
periodsofboth duststorms
beganto playhavocin Central restricted
to theAralregion.AralSea salts
abundant
watersandlow waters,
butlong- Asia. Wind erosion is now common have beenfoundin boththePacificand
term
changesinthesealevelwererelatively throughout
theAralregion.Saltydeposits Arcticoceans, and in the Ganges and
limited
(aboutthreemeters)
andessentially coattheonceproductive
agricultural
lands Brahamaputra
riversin India(22). During
due to the capricesof Nature.Recent of theAmudeltaandmorethana million summerthemountain
peaksare scarcely
changes,however,are anthropogenic.
In- ha ofagricutural
landareunproductive.
In visible because of aerosols settlingon
deed,the"destruction"
oftheAralSea was thesouthemand eastempartsof thesea them,as
muchas 3-4 tonsperha ofwhich
deliberately
undertaken.
Prominent
people wherethewaterhas recededas muchas a 100-500kilosare solublesaltswhichacexpoundedon the sea's uselessnessand 100km,a saltyfogis carried
hundreds
and celeratethethawing
process.Glaciersare
outthatlosswouldbe compensated hundreds
pointed
of kilometers
away by thefre- becoming noticeably smaller. Zeravforbygreatly
increased
agricultural
output, quently occurringdust storms. The chanskiyGlacier,whichwas previously
forecasting
extensivepasturelands
on the Karakum
andKyzylkum
deserts
havenow meltingat therateof aboutone metera
resultingexposed seabed and countless metontheAral'sexposedseabed(7, 8).
yearis nowdisappearing
at therateofone
flocksandherdsthatthesepastures
would
intheareacovered
Reduction
bytheAral meterpermonth.
The centuries
old lineof
A. Babayev,former
support.
president
of Sea has exposedgreatexpansesofformer Fedchenko
Glacier,oneofthelargest
inthe
theTurkmen
ofSciences,said;"I seabed (nearing30 000 km2 in 1988 (19) world,
Academy
hasreceded50 meters
ormore(23).
belongtothosescientists
whoconsider
that and thesolonchakmoundswhichquickly
Untilrelatively
recently
thereduction
of
drying
up oftheAralis farmoreadvanta- formon theexposedbed are thegreatest theglacierswasnotrecognized
orifso,not
geousthanpreserving
it.First,in itszone, sourceof windbomne
salts.The meansalt considered
a matter
forconcerninasmuch
goodfertile
landwillbe obtained.
Accord- contentin thetop halfmeterof exposed as thelevelsoftheriverswerevirtually
uning to preliminary
computations
thiswill seabedis about120 tonsperhectare(two- changed.Buttheriversranfullbecauseof
provide
for1.5million
tonsofcotton
a year. thirds
tothree-fourths
ofthesaltsintheup- intensive
melting
of snowandice. Central
Cultivation
of thiscropalonewillpayfor perhalfmeteraresodiumchloride
andso- Asia's giantwaterway,
theAmu,originates
the existingAral Sea withits fisheries, diumsulfate).On thesoutheastemn
shores in and is nourished
by thesnowand iceshippingand otherindustries.
Secondly, thefallin sea levelcoupledwithintensive meltwatersin themountains
andspursof
manyscientists
areconvinced,
andI among evaporati.on
havegivenrisetosalt accumu- thePamiro-Alays
(23).
AMBIO VOL. 20 NO. 3-4, MAY 1991

1II

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Figure3. The shrinking


AralSea (6,7,17, 18).

55

t--

At 53 m, area of Aral Sea with islands:

Long-term fluctuations

64 500 km2

50 _;

a)

>

0
.0

45-

At 46 m, exposed sea bed: 16 000 km2

(a
;)

At 41 m, Maloye Morye begins

0
0 40

separate
-- s

from Bolshoye Morye

to

--

At 40 m, exposed sea bed: 22 000 km2

a)

35

1940

'

'

'

1950

1960

1970

1980

1990

2000

2010

LowerGroundwater
Levels
OrdinskCelluloseand CartonCombineis fromthelocal irrigation
networks,
mainly
The dropin leveloftheAralSea has also nowbeingbrought
from
Siberia)(14).
becauseof operating
errors(10, 14). It is
led to substantially
lowergroundwater
The sharp reductionin streamflow calculated
levthat65% to 70% (in somelocaels in thedeltas:3-5 meters
in someloca- through
thearmsoftheAmudeltaandthe tions80%) oftheirrigation
wateris lostbetionstoas muchas 7-8 meters,
withminer- dropin sea levelhaveled to drying-up
of forereaching
thevegetation
(23,26,27).
alizationof morethan35 g perliterto as thedelta,to disappearance
of thesoil-re- The morethan1200kmlongKarakum
muchas 100g perliterandmore(8).
taining
reedgrowth
andtugayforests,
and Canal, for example, (drawing500 m3 per
Regulation
ofstream
flowsandcessation to deflation
processesin previously
water- secondfromtheAmu runsdirectly
over
offlooding
haveledtodrying
outofanim- loggedareas. Winderosionhas become loosesandsforhundreds
ofkilometers
and
menseareaina band25 to 100kmwideand common(8) andofthe178 speciesofani- the resultant
waterlosses are enormous.
about500 kmlongalongthecourseofthe malspreviously
foundin thedeltaof the Seepagelosseshaveled to thecreation
of
Syr.AlongthechanneloftheZhanaRiver, Amu,only38 speciesremain(24).
an 800km2"sea"alongtheKarakum
Canal
forsome250 km,therewas a 300 000 ha
in Turkmeniaand to an increase in
areaofblacksaxaulwoods(utilized
forfuel
salinization
(14). In 1912,the American
andas pastureland)
whichowedtheirexist- Fisheriesand Navigation
hydroengineer,
Davis, whohad beeninence to the periodicpenetration
of Syr Fishinghas ceasedovertheentiresea, as vitedby theRussiangovemment
forconfloodwaters
intothedrychannel.Whenin- has navigation,
andtheshoresof theAral sultation
on theproject,
statedthatthewacursionsfromtheSyrfloodwaters
ceased are a graveyard
of ships,barges,seiners, terswoulddisappearintothe sandsand
thesaxaulbegantodie(3).
andotherboats(7). The annualcatchesof therewasno pointwhatsoever
inundertakThe tugayforests
whichas lateas 1961 45 000-50000 tonsof fishare a thingof ingconstruction
of thecanal (28). In vilcovered260000hain5 to6-kilometer
wide thepast,and fishto be processedby the lagesalongthecanal,water
lapsintocellars,
bandsalongthe armsof theAmu delta, Muynak
Combine
arenowbrought communication
Cannery
linesareputoutof order,
werereduced
toa fifth
ofthatareaina little from
theAtlantic
(25).
buildingshave collapsedbecauseof the
morethantwodecades.Similarreductions
ground
underthemsinking,
treesinvalleys
took place along the delta armsof the
are drenched,
and orchards
and vineyards
Aliaul,Zair,Bagguzhaandalongtheshores INDIRECTCAUSES AND
aredying.
To protect
thecityofAshkhabad,
of Lake Zakirikul.The approximatelyCONSEQUENCES
now literallysurrounded
by marshlands,
300 000 ha of lakes and bogs thatprevi- The heavywithdrawals
of waterfromthe 150dewatering
wellshavehadtobe drilled
ouslyoccupiedthewestemandcentral
parts riversforirrigation
agriculture
aredirectly (20).Thenumerous
reservoirs
inthezoneof
of theAmudeltahavenearlyall driedup, responsible
forthedepletion
oftheAralSea theKarakum
Canal,holding
morethan50leavingtussocksof reed rootstocks
and andfordisruption
intheage-oldecological 60 km3ofwater(reserves
forlow-water
pestems,andgivingriseto typicalsolonchak equilibrium
in thebasin.However,other riods),add to evaporationand seepage
factorshave contributed,
some of them losses.The500 m2ZeydskReservoir,
(8).
near
Reedswhichoncecoveredsome700 000 greatly,
toaccelerating
andintensifying
ofthecanal,alsofunctions
the thestart
as a gihahavevirtually
all disappeared,
exceptfor catastrophe.
ganticsiltsettling
basin(29).
about30 000hainclosevicinity
tothelakes
Bolshoy Andizhansk Canal in
thatare beingintentionally
flooded.The
Balykchinsk
rayon(an administrative
divireeds have been succeededby salt and HighWaterLosses
sion or district),
witha flowcapacityof
drought-resistant
inthe Central
vegetation,
resulting
Asiantransport
andirrigation
canals 125-130m3persecond,hadno liningand
lossofan immense
areaofwhatwasprevi- areoftenonlyearthen
channels
withthere- morethan2000 ha of thenearbylandsof
ously highlyproductive
pastureland
and sultthata substantial
of wateris collective
quantity
farms
arebecoming
marshes.
The
meadow(8). (Raw materialfortheKzyl- lostthrough
seepage.Thelargest
lossesare bed of KhauzkhanReservoir(Maryysk
112

AMBIO VOL. 20 NO. 3-4, MAY 1991

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dustbrought
and foradditionalfertilizers
are andtheharmful
bywindsfrom
Oblast,Turkmenia)
in themiddleof the flushing
desertwas notprepared
to holdwaterand high,butthelossescausedby a disrupted thedryingAral Sea, and it is becoming
TheKhorezm
thatnotonlyharmas through
Oa- moreandmoreevident
thewaterseepsintotheground
a ecologyareevenhigher.
sieve.In thedriveforshort-term
bythepestiprofits, sis, for example,once perceivedas an fulinsectsarebeingaffected
paradise"is nowbadlydegraded. cides. Pesticides,mineralfertilizers,
and
ofcollector
anddrainage
nets "earthly
construction
of the 19thcentury
the variousnitrates
andnitrites
wa- At thebeginning
accumulate
in
hasbeenputoffandtheusedirrigation
tersalso join thegroundwater
wayintothecrops(9,
helpingto Russian ambassador,NikitaMuraveyev, thesoilandfindtheir
from
havingvisitedKhiva,wrote:"Not yet 5 11).Izvestiya
SouthSakhalin
reported
raiseitslevel(27, 30).
versts
from
thecity,theorchards
of
begin....A inOctober1988,thata 148-ton
shipment
attheKhivaFor- melonsfromUzbekistan
flowering
land."Arriving
was receivedon
HighWaterUse Rates
atthe the island in August.The melonssold
tress,
theambassador
slakedhisthirst
fortwodaysbuton thethirdday,
its briskly
that2000-3000 famousKhiva Spring,acknowledging
havedetermined
Specialists
willproduce
a tonofcotton,
but waterwas tastierthanthatin the spring began to darkensuspiciously.Official
m3 ofwater
inreality
twiceas muchis beingusedandin whichis theoriginoftheVolga.Travelling documentation
themelons
accompanying
thatnitrate
content
3-4 timesas much.Con- along thatroutetodaywe don't see the certified
satisfied
State
someoperations,
cottonis everywhere.Standards,
orchards,
buttestsestablished
water-use
servative
ratesare exceededby beautiful
thattheni1.6 times in Uzbekistan, 1.7 in The KhivaWell,legendary
sourceof the tratecontent
wastwotofourtimestheperIn Cen- KhorezmOasis, is badlypollutedand sa- missiblelevelandtheentireshipment
2.0 in Kazakhstan.
Turkmenistan,
was
tralAsia as a whole,water-use
ratesare line,as is thesurrounding
ground
(11).
sentto thedump.An earlier270-tonshipnorm
1.25 to 1.75 timesthe established
mentof cabbagefromTashkent,
also ac(10).
companied
byofficial
ofqualcertification
Ithasbeenestimated
thatupto5.5 m3of Collectorand DrainageWaters
ity,was similarly
foundunfitforhuman
waterareusedannually
perm3 ofricefield In the middleand upperreachesof the consumption
anddiscarded
(37).
in the lowerreachesof the Syr.Rice is Amu,dealingwiththehighlymineralized
of waterin drainage water from irrigatedfields
grownusinghalfthisquantity
thedeltaoftheVolga.In thelowerreaches amounts
ittootherandlow-ly- Societaland PublicHealthEffects
toexporting
of the Syr and Amu,the waterscontain ing lands,away fromtheirrigated
areas. Ithasbeenestablished
thatevenwithstrict
in the adherence
salts, herbicides,insecticides,
toregulations,
fertilizers,Some is sentto naturaldepressions
60% ofthepestiand industrial
and domesticwastes.The steppe and desertcreatingmany lakes cidesendup in theair,soil andwater.Inhighersaltlevelthemorewaterneededto (someofthem,
suchas theSarykamish
and vestigationscarriedout in Ashkhabad
achievethe same harvests(20, 31). Re- Amasay,thousands
of km2in area),aug- Oblastfounda definite
linkbetweendistothequestion
ofwhywaterhasa menting the groundwaters,tuming eases of theliver,gall bladder,and pansponding
zero cost foragriculture,
theMinisterof pasturelands
intomarshandgenerally
pro- creasandthepesticideloading.A similar
Land Reclamationand Wateranswered: moting
themultiplication
ofinsects(27,31, relationship
existsbetween
theuse ofminonthequalityofthesoil,inir- 34).
"Depending
eral fertilizers
and premature
birthsand
rigating
oneoranother
areatheneedmaybe
Farmers
areindependently
seekingways some,psychiatric
disorders
(9).
for5000 or 15 000 m3of waterperha so to handlethemineralized
drainagewaters. The medicalandecologicalsituation
in
thatone activity
wouldforthesametask The current
practiceis stillto dumpthe Turkmenia,accordingto Ministerof
Thisis contaminated
paythreetimesas muchas another.
highlymineralized
drainage Health,K. Chagylov,is reachingcrisis
notjust.It is morejustandsimpler
topro- waterintotherivers.
InTurkmenistan
alone level.The republic
has thecountry's
highvidewaterwithout
chargetoboth"(32).
about10km3ofdrainage
watersgo intothe est infant
mortality
rateandtherearefreKarakumCanal each year. Chardzhous quentoutbreaks
ofintestinal
diseases.Most
Oblast,forexample,wheretheKarakum peopledrink
waterfrom
theKarakum
Canal
SecondarySalinization
Canal has its start,dumpsback intothe whichdrawswaterfromtheheavilyconNearly 40% of the irrigatedland in Amuabout30% ofthevolumedrawnfrom taminated
Amu,Morethan60% ofthewaTurkmenistan
is subject to secondary theriverforirrigation.
In all CentralAsia tersamplestakenfromtheKarakum
Canal
salinization.
Augmented
byseepagelosses an estimated
30-40%ofthewatergoingto has highbacteriaconcentrations.
Above
fromtransport
and irrigation
canals and irrigation
fieldsis simplydumpedintothe Ashkhabad
Oblasttheratewas95%. In the
fromreservoirs,
and by thecarelessdis- desert(18,31,32,34,35).
last10 years,forexample,
theincidence
of
anddrainage
posalofcollector
watersfrom CentralAsian soils are generally
light typhoid
in theareawas morethan8 times
the fields, the highly mineralized andreadilypenetrated
so thatsalinewater theaverageforthecountry
(9).
risetoward
thesurface
groundwaters
freshwater
carry- penetrates
wellsand occasiontheUzbekregionwas reHistorically,
ingwiththemthesalt.Morethan62 million allytakesan underground
routeto emerge nownedforthe highproductivity
of its
tonsofsaltsareestimated
tohaveaccumu- inanother
location.
soils, whichprovidedas manyas three
latedonabout80 000 km2oflandalongthe
cropsa year.Monoculture
agriculture
(cotKarakumCanal.The situation
has become
ton)was introduced
and insistence
by the
wheretheannual Chemicals
alarmingin Turkmenia
authorities
was on immediate
returns.
Decrateofland-loss
duetosalinization
nowex- The limitsfortheuse of chemicalsin the adesofcotton
growing,
uninterrupted
for50
ceedstherateofdevelopment
ofnewareas regionare exceededseveralfold
(10, 12). yearson somefields,led to exhaustion
of
foragricultural
production.
While912 000 Each yearas muchas 300 kg of mineral thesoil andto theemergence
ofplantdisha weredevelopedand brought
intoagri- fertilizers
andatleast50 kgoftoxicchemi- eases andpests.Thiswas countered
byan
culturalproduction
in Uzbekistanin the calsareusedperha (36).According
to 1986 increasing
application
ofmineral
fertilizers
1975-1985period,552 000 ha werelost data,about13 kg of pesticideswereused and theuse of thetoxicchemicals.Toxic
(14, 19,33).
per ha in Turkmenia
and in Ashkhabad chemicals
oftenled to thedeathofthesoil
On nearlyall irrigated
landthesalinity Oblastupto64 kgperhectare
wereused.In fauna.In humans,epidemicsof yellow
situation
is worsening.
Inthefallandwinter theMuynak
area,pesticides
arebeingused jaundiceandintestinal
diseaseserupted
and
afterthe cottonhas been gatheredfrom on thecotton
fieldsattentimestheaverage the deathrate soared,especiallyamong
Khorezm
fields,
thesoilhastobe flushed
at of3 kgperha forthewholecountry
(31).
children
(18, 19,38).
leastfourtimesbefore
planting
ortherewill
By 1985,morethanthree
billion
m3 of
In Kazakhstan,
thesituation
is particube no crop.Usinglargequantities
offlush- toxic chemicalssaturatedcollectorand larlytragicinthelowerreachesoftheSyr,
ingwater,
as muchas 40-60tonsofsaltsare drainagewatersfromUzbekandTurkmen wherewaterqualityhas deteriorated
rapremoved
perhectare.
However,
halfofthese fieldstogether
withuntreated
industrial
and idly(20). InthelowerAmuthewateris unarebeneficial
salts.Diminishing
soilfertil- domesticwasteswerebeingdumpedinto suitable
fordrinking
without
thorough
puriityis countered
bydoubling
andtripling
the the Amu each year(9). Local soils are fication
butis beingdrunkby someresiapplications
offertilizers.
Thecostsforthe supersaturated
witha variety
of chemicals dents (31, 39). "At work,"says L.G.
113

AMBIO VOL. 20 NO. 3-4, MAY 1991

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in 1988
didpanelmem- 5 365000 tonsofcottonharvested
chiefof theNukusWater in theAralarea,nowhere
Konstantinova,
"we drinkdis- berssee freshmilk,fruitand vegetables, was pickedbyhand,as was a thirdof the
Microbiology
Laboratory,
Turkmen
Republic'scotton
(12,38,41).
inthestores.
tilledwater.We areevenafraidtodrink
the meatorbutter
Outbreaksof gastro-enteritis
have inpipedwaterafterit is boiled."(10). The
as havecases oftyphoid
thehealth
andlivesofthe creasedmarkedly
situation
threatens
CONCLUSIONS
andeosophageal
cancer.
hepatitis
nearandin fever,
nearly3 million
peopleresiding
of 12 845 inhabitants,Thedecadesofrelentlessly
drivefor
Uponexamination
thearea(20,36).
pressed
Thelevelofkidneyandliverdiseasesin in an areaabout250 kmsouthoftheAral evergreater
production
ofcottonin Soviet
Asiaunderthebannerof"Millions
thevicinity
oftheAralSea is severaltimes Sea, 8049 werefoundto be ailing(of this Central
Ina number
of ofTonsofCotton-AtAnyCost,"hasre3810werechildren).
as a whole.Thereare number
thatforthecountry
placeswhereinfant
mortality
reaches100 areas the physiciansrecommend
progressalongthe
against sultedin considerable
the breastfeeding
mothers' roadwhichendsin Catastrophic
babies,thenursing
per 1000births(20). In Karakalpakia,
Costsand
rateis 92 per 1000 (36). Cancerof the milkis toxic(24).
No Production
Whatsoever.
Attempts
by individualscientistsand
It is clear thathoweverimportant
the
eosophagushas becomeone of themost
topointoutthelinkbetween
the variouscausesoftheunfolding
widespread
diseases.Hepatitisandgastric physicians
ecological
increasesin illnessandthe catastrophe,
diseases,outbreaksof whichpreviously unprecedented
thefundamental
problemlies
wereunknown,
are now rampant.
About use of toxicchemicals,concentrations
of deeperandbeginswiththemilieuitself,
a
40% oftheKazakhRepublic'scasesofepi- whicharemanytimestheallowablelimits milieu
- whereadministrative
demic jaundice occur in Kzyl-Ordinsk in thesoil andin thefruits
andvegetables
and decisionOblastalone(7).
grownon them,
havehadothertragiccon- makingjurisdictions
are relatively
indeAftermorethantwomonths
investigat- sequences.There were instanceswhere pendentof one another
and are narrowly
ingat first
handthedeveloping
ecological physicians
wereputintoasylumsto stifle circumscribed;
- whereadministrative
catastrophe
inthebasinoftheArala panel dissentandconcealthetruestateofaffairs;
and decisionof scientistsand writersconcluded:"In massmisinformation
campaigns
werecar- making
jurisdictions
havelatitude
withreAralsk (rayon center in Kzyl-Ordinskriedouttocreateandpropagate
themyth
of spectto what,andto whatdegree,legislaOblast,previously
an important
seaport
but thegoodlifeoftheUzbekcottongrowers tionandregulations
bearing
ontheiractivinow70-80kmfromtheAral),nearlyall of (38).
tiesarecompelling;
thecity's29 low-lying
areasarefloodedby
In villages,otherthanthePotemkin
- wheretheequationof costsandbenvilbitter,
salinegroundwater.
Typhoidfever lages,thecottongrowers
liveinhovels,in efitsformeasuring
performance
and apcaseshaveincreased
sev- highlyunsanitary
25-fold,
hepatitis
conditions.
Themonthly praising
projects,
is skewedbyomitting
or
enfold.Fivethousand
workers
arenowun- earnings
ofthecotton
growers
rarely
exceed givinglittleweight
to coststhatemergein
employed,
some 10000 have alreadyde- 60-70rublesandonmanycollective
farms, another
jurisdiction
(e.g.,theyarethatjusertedthecity."
are even less. Peasants,who in thepast risdiction's
problem),and arbitrarily
asLifeforthevillagers
andtownspeople
of pridedthemselves
on theirspecialattach- signingvaluesto certainof theequation's
Karakalpakia
is distressingly
difficult.
The menttothelandarenowfleeing
it(38). The parameters
(decreeing,
forexample,that
earthand waterare polluted(salts,pesti- Muynak
areahasinrecent
yearsbeenaban- waterand landare zero-cost
resources
in
cides,herbicidesand defoliants),
food is donedbythousands
ofitsinhabitants
(25). agriculture).
meager(8-10 kilosofmeatperpersonper Thebrunt
ofthehardphysicallabortoday
year),consumption
offruits
andvegetables restson theshoulders
of womenandchilis a third
orlessthemedicalnorm(slightly dren.In someinstances,
suicideprovides
higherin Tadzhikistan
whereit is about permanentescape fromtheirtroubles.
In thetwoweeksthepanelspent Slightly
one-half).
overhalfoftheUzbekRepublic's
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afterrevisionFebruary
2, 1990.

NormanPrecoda,MS,an independent
on a varietyof
engineer,has written
topics and publishedin professional
journals.Hisaddress:459FoxenDrive,
Santa Barbara,Calif.93105,USA.

114

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