What happened to the Aral Sea?
The Aral Sea has been drastically shrinking since the 1960s due to upstream diversion of its two major rivers for agriculture and other industrial uses. As a result, its volume has decreased more than 80%, leaving behind desiccated lake beds and salty toxic waste from pesticide run-offs. The lake's fish stocks have been decimated and a severely degraded ecosystem now exists in the former sea.
How do we fix the Aral Sea?
To fix the Aral Sea, we need to increase the water inflow from rivers and also regulating water usage from the region. This would encourage an influx of more water into the sea as well as reducing water wastage from agricultural processes and from households in the region. Additionally, governments have considered diverting some tributaries of rivers that used to feed into the Aral Sea, including building canals or dig channels connecting to other bodies of water such as Lake Balkhash. Finally, protecting and restoring certain areas around the Aral Sea such as those with vulnerable ecosystems is essential in order to ensure a healthier future for the area.
Aral Sea Facts
- The Aral Sea is located in Central Asia and borders Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
- It was formerly the fourth-largest lake in the world, but began shrinking rapidly in the 1960s due to unsustainable farming and excessive water extraction from its primary feeder rivers.
- By 1998, it had disappeared completely, with an increase of 12 to 15 times in salinity since 1960; a significant drop in water volume; and disappearance of some 110 fish species previously present.
- At least 10 million people living near or dependent on the Aral Sea were affected by this environmental disaster, leading to extensive economic losses and health risks due to lack of access to clean drinking water and food sources affected by salt buildup.
- Since then, a number of efforts have been made by both nations to reverse the damage done to the sea, though it remains poorly managed with little progress in sight as of 2020.