The Aral Sea: An Ecological and Environmental Disaster for Kazakhstan and Central Asia
Professor L. Brady
The Aral Sea was at one time the fourth largest inland body of water on earth with a surface area of 66,000 square kilometers. In 1960, the mean water level was 53.4 meters and it contained 1090 kilometers times three of water1. The destruction of the sea and its ecosystems constitutes one of the greatest man-made environmental disasters in history. The ecological catastrophe has been associated with a sharp decline in the health status of the human population in the region. The environmental deterioration is expected to continue and the health outlook is similarly grim. There is a requirement for immediate health outlook is similarly grim. There is a requirement for immediate health related assistance from the international community.
Desert, semi-desert, dry steppes and high mountains landscape Central Asia. The Aral Sea is sandwiched between two deserts, the Karakum and the Kyzylkum. In the Aral Sea region, summer temperatures reach 400C and winter temperatures fall to –200C. Precipitation is minimal. The main volume of water comes from high glaciers feeding into the two main rivers, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya, which enter the sea from the north and south respectively. Historically, the Amu Darya supplied about 70% of the Aral Sea’s water.
In ancient times the Aral Sea region was an oasis, where thousands of people prospered as fishermen, farmers, merchants, hunters and craftsmen. It was once an important area that connected Europe and Asia as part of the Great Silk Road. Irrigation farming was being undertaken thousands of years ago2.
There were over 1100 islands in the Aral Sea, with countless lagoons and shallow straits. Aral is the Kazak word for island. The vast river deltas played a vital role in fish breeding. A flourishing fishing...