Global Environment Alert Services: Aral Sea
In the January edition of the Global Environment Alert Services (GEAS), UNEP covers the overwhelming desiccation of the Aral Sea. Though it may not be the most well-known large body of water, the Aral Sea was once the 4th largest lake in the world (note: lake in this instance is defined as inland body of water, regardless of the water’s salinity). However, the Sea has lost some 90% of its surface area since the 1960s. While climate conditions may have something to do with the Sea’s desiccation, the lion’s share of the responsibility falls on agricultural activity in the Aral Sea Basin region.
Complicating the situation, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China all share the basin region; and a few of them rely on the waters that feed the Sea. The two main rivers that feed the Sea, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya, have been increasingly tapped for irrigation purposes in the past century. Indeed, since the 1960s the population of the basin has quadrupled, and the irrigation from the two rivers provide livelihoods for the inhabitants. However, the dramatic reduction of the Aral Sea presents serious environmental consequences. Already, the fishing economy of the region has declined. Moreover, the salinity of the retreating waters means that it is very difficult to rehabilitate the salted lands they leave behind. This provides the conditions for dangerous dust storms, the desertification of the region, and compromised drinking water.
However, as our own Gabriela Bueno pointed out in a blog post, there is an international effort to rehydrate the region that seems to be having positive effects. But UNEP points out that with local agriculture dependent on irrigation from the Syr and Amu Darya, efforts should include the afforestation of the Basin region to mitigate environmental impacts rather than just trying to revive the Sea itself.
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