Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals,communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.
Country Water ActionsUzbekistan: Farmers, Scientists Push for Aral-Friendly Cotton Variety
Desertification and environmental degradation have beenshrinking the Aral Sea for the last 50 years. Restoring it isclose to impossible, and planting forests on the dried upseabed, according to scientists, is the only way stop itscomplete dry up. Will the Aral Sea still win this losing battle?
FROM A SEA TO A DESERT TO OASES
Scientists, government officials, and workers in Uzbekistanhave so far planted 27,000 hectares of land with shrubs,bushes and fodder plants, including the black saxaul, or theHaloxylon aphyllum—which can survive a hostileenvironment. The land, after all, used to be part of the Aralseabed. Now, it’s part of the desert.A joint project of the German Society for TechnicalCooperation and the Vodproekt Association of Uzbekistan’sMinistry of Agriculture and Water Management, the greeningof the Aral Sea began in 2000 and continues until today.Workers are busy building oases that can ease erosion andimprove the environment.The new shrubs, bushes, and plants capture rain and snowthat are crucial in the drought-affected Aral region, whosecurrent annual precipitation averages only about 75millimeters. The plants’ roots, which grow parallel to theground and fasten to the mixture of sand, dust and salt,prevent further erosion, while the plant itself act aswindbreakers, decreasing wind velocity by 60 to 70 percent.In the Aral region, blowing salt and dust are among the maincauses of cancer, respiratory diseases, intestinal disorders,and infections.Zinovy Novitsky, the project’s scientific adviser, said, “Man-made desertification happens and people suffer from it.” Working on the Aral Sea for 20 years, he defended hisdoctoral thesis on the scientific methods of growing forestson the dried up sea bottoms. The only way to combatdesertification, he adds, is to create forests since “forestscreate oxygen, kill microbes, and improve the climate andlandscape.”
BEFORE THE SEA BECAME THIRSTY
Situated between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the Aral wasonce the world’s fourth largest inland sea. The Amu Daryaand Syr Darya rivers used to feed the Aral Sea until theirwaters were diverted to irrigation, mainly of cotton, whichwas the former Soviet Union’s primary produce.In the 1960s, nearly 58 billion cubic meters of water flowedfrom the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers into the Aral eachyear. But it has been receiving very little water since 1986due to increasing irrigation off take. It also loses 30 to 35billion cubic meters a year to evaporation. Today, the Aral’svolume of water has fallen by 90 percent and its surfacearea has shrunk by 73 percent. It also has separated intotwo lakes—the Big Aral and the Small Aral.Nearly 50,000 square kilometers of the sea have dried up,and a new desert called Aralkum is now in its place. Windsblow about 75 million tons of dust, sand and salt from theAralkum, which settles on land within a 1,000-kilometerradius. Aggravating the situation is the pollution from thenow uninhabited Vozrozhdeniye island, a former biologicalweapons test site.Forty years ago, the project site where workers are nowplanting forests was filled with water more than 20 metersdeep. Today, one needs to drive 70 kilometers of scorchedsand strewn with seashells to get there.