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The Future of Balkhash

The Future of Balkhash

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Published by Michael Hancock
This is a research paper on the similarities and differences between the Aral Sea and Kazakhstan's Lake Balkhash.
This is a research paper on the similarities and differences between the Aral Sea and Kazakhstan's Lake Balkhash.

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Published by: Michael Hancock on Sep 16, 2009
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Michael Hancock U596 FINAL PAPER

 Introduction Lake Balkhash lies in Central Asia, and is the largest body of water after the Caspian Sea, recently earning this status with the demise of the Aral Sea. Both the Aral and Balkhash lie locked in desert and semi-desert regions with little rainfall, fed largely by rivers running through heavily irrigated, arid regions. They are bodies of water with historically dynamic shorelines, vulnerable to a wide variety of actors in the region.1 The similarity of Balkhash and Aral suggests that a closer analysis of the cautionary tale presented by the disappearance of the Aral can give some indications as to the future of Balkhash. Being prey to many of the same factors that caused the desiccation of
Lake Aydarkul

Body of Water

Approx. Surface Area

Aral Seas

16,000 km2

Lake Balkhash

17,000 km2


Lake Sarykamysh

5,000 km2

3,000 km2

the Aral Sea, Lake Balkhash may soon suffer a similar fate . The permanent representative of the United Nations Development Program in Kazakhstan stated that, "…Lake Balkhash could meet a fate similar to the Aral Sea."3 Though Balkhash exists largely in anonymity, it was not until its fishing fleets lay rusting in the desert that the Aral Sea came to worldwide fame and notoriety. This paper presents, in two parts, an analysis of the demise of the Aral Sea, listing those factors in common with Lake Balkhash, as well as those distinctive of each. For the purposes of this paper, the analysis will deal only with the Aral Sea‟s demise up to the fall of the

1 2

(Glantz M. , 1999) (Nomura, 1999) (BBC, Kazakh lake 'could dry up', 2004) (Kozlova, 2006) (Carino, Water woes in Kazakhstan, 2008) 3 (BBC, Kazakh lake 'could dry up', 2004)

Soviet Union. One complicating factor posed is the social planning from which both Balkhash and Aral have suffered. The disastrously wasteful consequences from dam mismanagement and the civil engineering failed to consider natural requirements when figuring economic, industrial, and agricultural progress. Another factor is the impact of global environmental issues on the region, especially concerning the phenomenon of global warming. One more complicating factor is a system of inefficient irrigation practices servicing the demands of thirsty crops and urban development away from aquifers, and the pollution of rivers and groundwater with industrial waste and agricultural runoff. Following the analysis of the Aral Sea, this paper will illuminate those self-same factors that could lead to Lake Balkhash‟s own disaster. The many issues at work in the death of the Aral Sea are not all present in Lake Balkhash‟s situation, and some are unique to the Aral Sea, as others are unique to Lake Balkhash. Moreover, there is some overlap between various factors, while others are more or less independent and unaffected by the severity of others. The reasons for the disappearance of the Aral are still debatable, and this paper utilizes opinions of experts to compare the situation with Kazakhstan‟s Lake Balkhash. Tragically, the governments of Central Asia did not understand the importance of the Aral Sea until it began to disappear. During the Soviet Union, most civilians could not imagine the disappearance of the Aral Sea even as various party officials and policy makers included its eventual disappearance in their plans4.  Aral Sea: An Overview Dealing with the Aral Sea, its name is a good place to begin, as it has some significance. The Aral Sea received its name from the word for “island,” as the historical levels of the sea created thousands of small islands5, hundreds larger than an acre in size. Others suggest that
4 5


(Micklin, 2006) (Small, I.; Van der Meer, J.; Upshur, R.E.G., 2001)

the island the name refers to is the water itself6, an island of water in a sea of sand, surrounded as it is by the Kara Kum and Kyzyl Kum, two of the largest deserts in Central Asia. The Aral Sea was once the fourth largest lake in the world, though its levels have changed dramatically over the millennia. It was roughly four times the size of Lake Balkhash in 1960. The Aral Sea has shrunk to the point of splitting into three distinct lakes, two of which are too salty to support fish7. The combined surface area of the Aral Sea[s] in 2007 was only 10% of the 1960 surface area. By volume, however, the Aral Sea‟s deeper basins still contain far more water, though quality is a different matter. When geographers and historians refer to „historical levels‟ with regard to the Aral Sea, they refer to the level of the sea in the early 1960s 8 . During the first half of the twentieth century, the sea supported a thriving fishing industry, marsh and forest ecosystems. Compared with those levels, the desiccation has indeed been catastrophic. The complete disappearance of the Aral Sea is highly unlikely, but what remains today are five separate bodies of water9. These comprise the eastern and western basins of the Small Aral Sea in the north, and three lakes formed from the Large Aral, the eastern, western, and Tsche-Bas Gulf basins10. The Aral Sea has splintered into five small bodies of water. Many factors have played a part in the catastrophe. Perhaps the most well known is cotton, as many journalists and scholars have lamented that the loss of the Aral was the price the Soviet Union agreed to pay to grow cotton in the deserts of Central Asia. In addition to the cultivation of thirsty crops like cotton and rice, the system of irrigation canals itself was a part of the problem. Woefully wasteful unlined ditches and canals lose much of their water to seepage and evaporation. In
6 7


(Bissell, 2002) (Micklin, 2006) 8 (Goldman, 1972) 9 (Richardson, 2005) 10 (Micklin, 2006)

order to irrigate more land and provide electricity to growing communities, the Soviet Union built several dams in the area. These dams also played a part in the tragedy, creating several accidental brackish lakes in the desert, in essence stealing water from the Aral to dry up in the desert. The bureaucratic policies of the Soviet Union in turn affected these factors, which were not interdependent of each other. Scholars have long lamented that the Soviet Union saw nature as expendable in the pursuit of progress, and the Aral Sea‟s disappearance was just one part of the Soviet Union‟s plan for the future of Central Asia11.  Cotton, Irrigation, and Dam Mismanagement in the Aral Basin Soviet style farming cultivated large tracts of land converted from desert into arable land using large irrigation canals. Local farmers found this style unusual, unlike traditional Central Asian methods. Sedentary Central Asian populations raised mostly food crops, on much

smaller, labor-intensive small-plot farms with windbreak tree lines and individually maintained irrigation ditches. 12 The irrigation system put in place during the twentieth century by the Soviet Union was unlined and wasteful, in contrast with those ancient systems unearthed by archaeologists. Modern irrigation is far less efficient and effective, and “investigations at Merv in southern Turkmenistan… indicate no evidence of soil salinization within the oasis despite many hundreds of years of irrigation. However, Soviet-built irrigation schemes resulted in


widespread salinization and water-logging within 20 years of their introduction.”13 Advanced irrigation existed in ancient times, and “…the first descriptions of water management in Central Asia are provided in the works of the Arabic historians and geographers of the 9th–13th century... Their writings give very detailed accounts of water distribution and irrigation systems

11 12

(Goldman, 1972) (Nomura, 1999) 13 (O'Hara, 2000)

and it is evident that the administration of scarce water resources was central to the way in which the social and political hierarchy of settlements operated.”14 Central Asians were growing irrigated cotton prior to the Russian Conquest in the 19th century, but the Tsar, and the loss of cotton imports from the American South due to the American Civil War, influenced an exponentially increased cotton production in Central Asia. Cotton requires sun and water in abundance, and the desert climate and the rivers of the region supplied them. Whether called Transoxiana or Ma wara'un-Nahr15, historians have long defined the watershed of the Aral Sea by the rivers that cross it – the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. Following the fall of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union increased cotton cultivation, pushing water exploitation past the point of the ecological status quo and, beginning in the 1960s, the level of the Aral Sea began slowly to sink. Less and less water reached the sea, diverted to irrigation devoted to cotton, rice, and other thirsty crops, and the water that did arrive was laden with pollutants16. The Aral Sea had already begun to flee its shores when the fall of the Soviet Union transformed the issue from an internal economic issue into an international environmental catastrophe. The Aral Sea and Lake Balkhash are like barometers, acting as the indicators of the health of the rivers that feed them17. As such, it is the overall management of waters in the Aral Sea basin that has caused the grand scale of devastation, and not simply cotton growers in
14 15


(O'Hara, 2000) Transoxiana for „beyond the Oxus,‟ the historical name of the Amu Darya, and Ma wara'un-Nahr is Arabic for „that which is beyond the river.‟ 16 “Excessive fertilizer and pesticide use, mostly in relation to cotton and rice cultivation, has contaminated surface and underground water. Not only were inferior quality herbicides, insecticides and defoliants used in the FSU which were more contaminating than those available on the world market - but highly subsidized prices within the context of a planned farm economy provided no incentive for efficient use, often leading to excessive use and wastage of fertilizers and pesticides. Chemical pollution of drinking water has caused a high incidence of cancerous diseases, and substantial dioxin residues have been found in mothers' milk, in particular in Karakalpakstan. The incidence of waterborne diseases such as typhus, paratyphoid and viral hepatitis has increased enormously over the past decades in the midstream and downstream areas of the Amu and Syr Darya." (Spoor, 1998) 17 (Micklin, P.; Gulnara, R.; Alexeeva, N.; Aladin, N.; Plotnikov, I.; Sokolov, V.; Sarsembekov, T., 2006)

Karakalpakstan bordering the sea.

However, the architects of this catastrophe have not

significantly altered their water schemes away from cotton-based economies or the other causes of the depletion of the Aral Sea. Though the governments of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have begun to replace some acreage with less thirsty grain crops, old habits of agriculture persist. Journalists visiting the Aral Sea have witnessed extensions in canal irrigation in the Amu Darya delta.18 The Aral Sea was once a source of vast wetland and forest habitats, a habitat, a source of food, a homeland to the Karakalpak. However, that disappeared in part in the pursuit of „white gold,‟ the cotton that helped clothe the people of the Soviet Union, and "the fish basket of Central Asia became the waste basket of the region, as a large proportion of the salts and agricultural chemicals upstream were deposited in the area."19 The adverse consequences of social-communist planning exacerbated the situation, if not being the cause of disaster outright. Two principle elements illustrate this point: first, the building of dams for development and second, the continued spread of cotton cultivation. With dams, as with many forms of artificial developments to manipulate natural resources, the Soviet Union did not employ a cost-benefit analysis. Often, different departments of the Soviet


bureaucracy were competing for benefits and recognition, building unnecessary dams to utilize a seemingly endless supply of water.20 For example, the unplanned Lake Aydarkul, which shifts from three to four thousand square kilometers, is large enough to be easily visible in satellite photography. Caused by poorly managed dams on the Syr Darya at the border of the Kazakh SSR and the Uzbek SSR, Aydarkul has been, since its birth in 196921, a mixed blessing at best. Thanks to unscheduled hydroelectric flows, these brackish, shallow, and temporary waters sink

18 19

(Bissell, 2002) (Small, I.; Van der Meer, J.; Upshur, R.E.G., 2001) 20 (Goldman, 1972) 21 (Micklin, P.; Nihoul, J.; Zavialov, P, 2004)

into the desert, restored each winter, and growing with increased hydroelectric activity in independent Kyrgyzstan.22 Soviet mismanagement created a similar situation on the border of the Turkmen SSR and the Uzbek SSR with the waters of the Amu Darya filling Lake Sarykamysh. Sarykamysh is a drainage collector of salty irrigation runoff, and currently covers more than three thousand square kilometers.23 Like Aydarkul, dams stop water traditionally headed for the Aral Sea, which instead drains into Sarykamysh. Aydarkul and Sarykamysh lie in salt flats far from cultivated lands, and the water trapped there is lost to economic use, unable to reach its original destination, an incredible waste24.  Aral Sea: Political Considerations The former Soviet Union never based its water management scheme on maintaining equal trade of resources between the Republics, and Moscow dictated all terms. For example, the central location of decision-making meant that while Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan let flow away their primary valuable resource, GosPlan in Moscow compensated them with subsidized fossil fuels, along with the benefits of the socialist system. The Soviet Union allowed the rampant disregard for natural cost that caused the catastrophe, but perhaps it was the fall of the Union in 1991 and the rise of border checkpoints that pounded the final nail in the coffin for the Aral Sea. Inter-regional inequalities and failed and unrepentant Soviet-style governance dashed any hope of unified efforts to conserve and restore the sea.25  Lake Balkhash: An Overview


22 23

(Severskiy) (Micklin, P.; Nihoul, J.; Zavialov, P, 2004) 24 (O'Hara, 2000) 25 (Micklin, 2006)

Lake Balkhash is of a different type than the Aral Sea, and its name reflects that stark contrast. Its name in Kazakh [Балқаш (Balqash)] derives from the word for “muddy.”26 Unlike the Aral Sea, Balkhash has historically been very shallow, fed by minor rivers from the Dzungaria Plateau of Northwestern China and the Semireche region of southeastern Kazakhstan. Exact measurements of Balkhash‟s surface area range from 16,000 km2 to 18,200 km2. It is forty times the size of Lake Geneva. Balkhash has recently become the largest single body of water in Central Asia after the Caspian Sea27. Lake Balkhash has an average depth of only 5.8 meters, and a maximum depth of 25.6 meters. Its eastern and western halves are quite different – the eastern being deeper and saline. Balkhash is located entirely inside one country, the Republic of Kazakhstan. However, the Balkhash watershed includes the Ili River, which rises in China‟s Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Fifteen percent of the basin‟s area lies inside China, including the glacial river sources of Balkhash28. Kazakhstani citizens, similar to those that lived on the shores of the Aral Sea in the Soviet Union, do not foresee a salty, polluted desert replacing Lake Balkhash. However,


various organizations are warning that that is exactly what will happen if current policies and plans continue through the following decade.29 If Balkhash disappears, it will be the result of a line of naturally destructive developments begun in the Soviet Union and continuing in the present day in northwest China. The Ili River, rising in China, provides between seventy-five and eighty percent of fresh water inflow annually. Because the lake is so shallow, more of its volume is susceptible to evaporation. Together with the smaller size and shallower depth, this makes Balkhash much
26 27

(Nomura, 1999) INTERNATIONAL LAKE ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE, http://www.ilec.or.jp/eg/index.html 28 (Micklin, P.; Gulnara, R.; Alexeeva, N.; Aladin, N.; Plotnikov, I.; Sokolov, V.; Sarsembekov, T., 2006) 29 (Kozlova, 2006)

more vulnerable to environmental change than the Aral Sea. Balkhash is roughly half-fresh water and half-saline, and the boundary has shifted in recent history due to artificial causes.30 The building of the Kapchagay dam and reservoir retarded the inflow of the Ili River, allowing the advance of northern brackish waters far enough south to affect the large industrial city of Balkhash, located halfway up the Western shore. Lake Balkhash is in danger for a variety of reasons. Similar to the Aral Sea situation, some of these factors are agricultural. Rivers flowing to Balkhash feed an inefficient irrigation system watering cotton and rice cultivation. In addition, dam building during the Soviet Union has played a part in desiccation of the area. However, unlike Aral, Lake Balkhash is dependent on state-to-state cooperation, as a majority of the water in Balkhash comes from the Ili River and China. In addition to the Soviet legacy of development, similarly exploitive social planning exists in northwestern China. Finally yet importantly is the threat of global warming, which threatens both Lake Balkhash and the remains of the Aral Sea. Independent of Soviet or Chinese plans, the disappearance of the glaciers of the Tien Shan and Central Asian mountain ranges would drastically change water reality for millions of people.  Irrigation, Dams, and Balkhash Kapchagay reservoir is a symbol of progress and recreation for Kazakhstanis living in Almaty. The Soviet Union made initial development plans for the reservoir in the early 1960s. The new dam would make it possible to irrigate an additional million acres, more than half of which would be devoted to rice. Rice is a wet crop requiring massive quantities of water, and the Balkhash basin is semi-desert and desert. However, rice is a staple of the Central Asian diet and popular as a crop during the Soviet Union. Fish bred behind the Kapchagay Dam would



(Goldman, 1972)

increase productivity, and water transportation would lower shipping costs – it seemed a winwin situation to GosPlan in Moscow. The dam would soon pay for itself. Over the course of its construction, lake levels dropped significantly31. Two small lakes to the southeast of Balkhash completely disappeared, along with valuable wildlife habitat. Water logging and salinization continue to be major issues connected with Kapchagay, thanks in part to the level of irrigation necessary for rice cultivation.32 It was not long before Kazakh SSR scholars began to protest that due to its shallow depth, arid location, and rapid evaporation, the eastern end of the lake was more susceptible to environmental stress.33 Residents of Balkhash, the industrial city on the center of the western shore, “began to realize that the flow of the Ili would be seriously disrupted when it was blocked to fill the Kapchagay reservoir. The diversion would mean a reduced flow of fresh water into the lake. This, in turn, would lead to an increase in the lake's salt content and the poisoning of the town's fresh water supply.” 34 Protests led to the discovery that the Ministry of Power independently devised the Kapchagay Dam, and GosPlan in Kazakhstan had officially questioned the act as early as November 1964, six months before Moscow received the plans. The Ministry of Power had drastically overestimated agricultural returns while acknowledging that the dam would halt the spring floods that hydrated the delta area. Without those floods, the land reverted to desert in only two years. The Ministry of Power consequently emphasized the benefits of added electrical capacity and the creation of a recreational area close to the capital of Alma Ata [present-day Almaty]. “Neither the recreational value nor the power


potential was even mentioned in the 1965 plan. Furthermore, once construction had been

31 32

(Goldman, 1972) (Nomura, 1999) 33 (Nomura, 1999) 34 (Goldman, 1972)

approved, another calculation was made and it was discovered that it would take four, not 1.5 years for the dam to pay for itself.” 35 The Ministry of Power secretly raised the proposed height of the dam. The reservoir filled ahead of schedule, the salinity of the water near

Balkhash rose 8% in just the first year, and the level of the lake slowly descended. Some critics have suggested that Soviet planners called for Kapchagay Reservoir because the Ili was the only major Central Asian river still without a dam.36  Lake Balkhash: Political Considerations Unlike the Aral Sea, Lake Balkhash‟s political factors connecting Kazakhstan with its powerful neighbor China complicate the issues of water management, dams, and irrigation. Aside from the Soviet legacy, China is building even more dams along the rivers feeding Lake Balkhash. China‟s oil industry is booming, and the oil industry is particularly thirsty, and located entirely in the upper reaches of the Ili River basin. The oil boomtowns, supplied with water that traditionally flowed to Lake Balkhash, grow every year. Ironically, thanks to increased glacial melt caused by global warming, Lake Balkhash has not shown any losses in the last several years, and even minor gains. This has lulled many into a false sense of Balkhash‟s environmental security and safe future. It is the future that China is aiming towards, with one official claiming that the government‟s goal is to retain three times the water from the Ili. 37 Such an amount would seriously affect the levels in Kapchagay Reservoir. The impact of such an event is difficult to predict, as Kapchagay is the source of water and electricity for Almaty, independent Kazakhstan‟s first capital and still largest city and commercially dominant metropolis. Kazakhstan‟s current capital of Astana would not be safe from water woes, as its own Irtysh rises in Xinjiang.
35 36


China is already increasingly harnessing the Irtysh with

(Goldman, 1972) (Goldman, 1972) 37 (Sershen, 2007)

hydroelectric dams and canals38, sending less and less water downstream to Kazakhstan and Russia. Cotton, not to mention rice, is far from the most appropriate crop to grow in desert regions irrigated solely by rivers rising in foreign countries. One issue is the decreased water available when upstream developments call for more water, impinging on downstream consumers. China is putting more land under irrigation every year. Both Kazakhstan and China view water as “God‟s gift,” 39 making it vulnerable to a „first come, first serve‟ style of management. Similar with the Aral Sea situation, where Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan futilely attempt to claim their own „God-given‟ water supplies from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Lake Balkhash may find itself asking China for „Chinese‟ water. Stalemates continue as the governments strive to maintain the status quo 40. Pricing the water may yet offer a solution, though one with its own set of problems. “In spite of its vital importance to agriculture, water in the Central Asian region has largely remained unpriced, or has been priced at a purely symbolic level.”41 However, to maintain the current status quo between China and Kazakhstan, the loser will be the level of Lake Balkhash, which China might view as a Kazakhstan-specific problem anyway. The Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia (CAREC), a Kazakhstani NGO, produced a draft agreement between Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and China regarding water resource sharing in 200742, but without the political connections to bring the parties to the table.


38 39

(Greenberg, 2007) (Spoor, 1998) 40 (Nomura, 1999) 41 (Spoor, 1998) 42 CAREC is a NGO operating in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Its web-resources are only partially functioning today, but its aim seems to have been increased efficiency in international water discussions. (Mustafin, 2007)

Even as Nazarbaev hopes to make Kazakhstan one of the top 50 most powerful countries in the world, China has set its own eyes on simply the most powerful country in the world. What‟s more, Kazakhstan recently built an oil pipeline to export at market prices 43. When these countries equate their water rights with their chances of successful development, relations gain a dangerous tension. "The current economy is developing under conditions of increasing water deficiency. In spite of increasing efforts by the governments of the countries in the region, and by the international community, the situation in regard to water supply and economic objectives in the countries of Central Asia remains tense and shows clear tendencies towards aggravation and conflict."44 However, this gives Kazakhstan little political capital, as it needs Chinese oil imports more than China needs Kazakhstani oil. A frank look at the statistics drives the inequality home, with Kazakhstan‟s entire population able to fit into a single large Chinese city. In short, China‟s population and economic pressures are serious issues for


Kazakhstan 45 . Raising the water issue with the River Ili and Lake Balkhash would seriously hamper China‟s plans in the Xinjiang Autonomous Uighur Region, earmarked for rapid industrial and agricultural development over the upcoming decades.46 Attempts made to alleviate the trade of water have not met with much success. Water pricing experiments in Lake Balkhash region have met with very limited success, often valuing water at extremely low prices47. In addition, farmers and water users pay for their resources through barter, making it more difficult to keep track of expenditures48. In short, the affected parties need to find some other method to bring water users together to peacefully divide

43 44

(Sershen, 2007) (Severskiy) 45 (Carino, Water woes in Kazakhstan, 2008) 46 (Sershen, 2007) 47 (Sehring, 2008) 48 (Micklin, P.; Gulnara, R.; Alexeeva, N.; Aladin, N.; Plotnikov, I.; Sokolov, V.; Sarsembekov, T., 2006)

resources between agricultural, hydroelectric, and industrial use, while leaving enough left over for natural habitats and environmental conservation.  Local Consequences of Global Warming Trends Lake Balkhash‟s water levels are historically very elastic, rising and lowering more than a meter from decade to decade49. Recent years have seen a record amount of water race down the Ili from snowmelt and glaciers in China, masking the increase in water use. The global concern of retreating glaciers and intensifying continental climates is coming to Central Asia. Along with the Alps, Central Asia has seen some of the most drastic glacial disappearance anywhere in the world50. The future of both Lake Balkhash and the remains of the Aral Sea, not to mention the millions that depend on water destined for those bodies of water, depends in large part on those glaciers. “A complicating factor is the retreat of glaciers in the Pamir Mountains - the source of much of Central Asia's fresh water. „Eventually, there will be no Amu Darya, no Syr Darya.” 51 While this has led in some cases to record highs in local reservoirs and incremental increases in Lake Balkhash, it speaks of a problem several orders of magnitude more severe than mismanagement or water rights disputes. While precipitation and groundwater feed some of the Balkhash and Aral Sea basin, glacial waters and snowmelt are a large percentage that, if removed, would bring unforgiving ecological and economic consequences. Global warming will initiate an environmental downward spiral, similar to that currently active in the Aral Sea basin. “This would lead to longer, hotter summers with increased crop water needs and heightened irrigation requirements, which could in turn reduce aggregate water savings from


49 50

(Nomura, 1999) (Niederer, P.; Bilenko, V.; Ershova, N.; Hurni, H.; Yerokhin, S.; Maselli, D., 2008) 51 (Greenberg, 2007)

irrigation improvements.”52 A drying Balkhash, like the dry Aral, would expose thousands of square miles of sand and salt, to say nothing of the industrial waste from the city of Balkhash, to winds that would carry them into the remaining glaciers of the Tien Shan, accelerating the melting process. Businesses dependent on water in the city of Balkhash and the growing populations of Almaty and Taldy-Korgan will quickly drain reserves from Kapchagay 53 . Kazakhstan‟s future and one-fifth of its population depend on the waters that drain into Lake Balkhash54. The disappearance of Balkhash would have wide-ranging effects. However, the

concerned countries‟ economic policymakers see Lake Balkhash as a holder of idle resources. The Soviet Union generally did not include the „idle‟ natural uses of water resources in its analysis55, and China is likely to repeat the mistake of not allocating water to natural reserves alongside agricultural, industrial, and personal use. The fact is that large bodies of water lower air temperatures, store winter warmth and normalize the extremes of the continental climate of the Asian steppe. Since the disappearance of the Aral Sea, winters have been colder and longer, summers hotter and drier, and dust storms far more frequent.56  Conclusion In conclusion, the Aral Sea is mourned as an ecological disaster, and even more so as one wholly preventable and caused by chronic mismanagement, unashamed exploitation of nature, and exacerbated by an inefficient economic system57. The Balkhash issue is one that can draw many comparisons with the Aral Sea, and many of the same factors are at work. This


52 53

(Micklin, 2006) (BBC, Water, electricity shortages threaten Kazakhstan's commercial capital, 2008) 54 (Abdurasulov, 2008) 55 (Goldman, 1972) 56 (Small, I.; Van der Meer, J.; Upshur, R.E.G., 2001) 57 (Kozlova, 2006)

paper has covered some of them: the consequences of environmentally unsound social planning, the increasing seriousness of global warming, and the repercussions of faulty irrigation. Some other issues are unique to Lake Balkhash, like the international nature of the watershed, the development of oil in China and heavy industry on the shore of Lake Balkhash. The lost sea has a lot to teach the world about the upcoming crisis with Lake Balkhash. The health issues raised by Aral58 should be enough to give Kazakhstan pause. Increased cultivation of rice59 and cotton in the Ili River basin seems too obvious a form of déjà vu, especially when combined with a devil-may-care attitude towards the pollutants dumped into Lake Balkhash by the industries in the city of Balkhash. Lake Balkhash, which is disappearing when Central Asian governments should have learned their lessons already, is an issue for serious consideration in China and Kazakhstan.


58 59

(MSF in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan: Activity Report 1999-2000, 2000) (Nomura, 1999)

Abdurasulov, A. (2008). The Dark Days Return. Retrieved from Transitions Online. BBC. (2004). Kazakh lake 'could dry up'. Almaty: BBC Monitoring. BBC. (2008). Water, electricity shortages threaten Kazakhstan's commercial capital. Almaty: Megapolis; BBC Monitoring. Bissell, T. (2002). Eternal Winter: Lessons of the Aral Sea disaster. Harper's Magazine , 41-57. Carino, J. (2007). Man-made environmental hazards threaten Lake Balkhash - Industrial giant endangers lake and people's health. Times of Central Asia . Carino, J. (2008). Water woes in Kazakhstan. China Dialogue . Glantz, M. (Ed.). (1999). Creeping Environmental Problems and Sustainable Development in the Aral Sea Basin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Glantz, M. H. (2007). Aral Sea Basin: A Sea Dies, a Sea Also Rises. Ambio , 36 (4). Goldman, M. (1972). Externalities and the Race for Economic Growth in the USSR: Will the Environment Ever Win? The Journal of Political Economy , 80 (2). Greenberg, I. (2007). Kazakhstan and China Deadlock Over Depletion of a Major Lake. The New York Times . Haltzer, G. (2003). Stalemate in the Aral Sea Basin; Will Kyrgyzstan's New Water Law Bring the Downstream Nations Back to the Multilateral Bargaining Table? Georgetown International Environmental Law Review , 15, pp. 291320. Kozlova, M. (2006). Lake Balkhash's Disappearing Act. Retrieved from Transitions Online. Micklin, P. (2006). The Aral Sea Crisis and Its Future: An Assessment in 2006. Eurasian Geography and Economics , 47 (5), pp. 546-47. Micklin, P.; Gulnara, R.; Alexeeva, N.; Aladin, N.; Plotnikov, I.; Sokolov, V.; Sarsembekov, T. (2006). Aral Sea: Experience and Lessons Learned Brief. Lake Basin Management Initiative Final Main Report (p. 14). Shiga: International Lake Environment Committee. Micklin, P.; Nihoul, J.; Zavialov, P. (2004). Proceedings of the NATO Advanced Research Workshop on Dying and Dead Seas- Climatic versus Anthropic Causes. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers. (2000). MSF in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan: Activity Report 1999-2000. Medecins sans Frontieres. Mustafin, S. (2007). Draft Ili-Balkhash Agreement. 1-15. (T. Makeyev, Ed.) Almaty: CAREC. Niederer, P.; Bilenko, V.; Ershova, N.; Hurni, H.; Yerokhin, S.; Maselli, D. (2008). Tracing glacier wastage in the Northern Tien Shan (Kyrgyzstan/Central Asia) over the last 40 years. Climatic Change. 86, pp. 227-234. Springer Science + Business Media. Nomura, M. (1999). Water Usage and the Feasability of Water Fees Along the Lower Reaches of the Ili River: The Case of Bereke Village. Russian Regions: Economic Growth and Environment (pp. 1-12). Sapporo: Hokkaido University.


O'Hara, S. L. (2000). Central Asia's Water Resources: Contemporary and Future Management Issues. Water Resources Development , 16 (3). Richardson, M. (2005). Central Asia's retreating waters. South China Morning Post . Sehring, J. (2008). The Pitfalls of Irrigation Water Pricing in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Development , 51. Sershen, D. (2007). A river ran through it. South China Morning Post . Severskiy, I. (n.d.). Water-Related Problems of Central Asia: Some Results of the (GIWA) International Water Assessment Program. Ambio , 33 (1/2, Transboundary Issues in Shared Waters), pp. 52-62. Small, I.; Van der Meer, J.; Upshur, R.E.G. (2001). Acting on an Environmental Health Disaster: The Case of the Aral Sea. Environmental Health Perspectives , 109 (6). Spoor, M. (1998). The Aral Sea Basin Crisis: Transition and Environment in Former Soviet Central Asia. Development and Change , 29, pp. 409-35. Stone, R. (2008, May). A New Great Lake or Dead Sea? Science , 320.


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