Monday, December 22, 2014

At the Aral lake or where it was 20 years ago (14.09.2014 - 15.09.2014)

Ever since hearing about the drying up of the Aral Sea I've been kind of fascinated with its fate. I don't know why but probably because it is kind of unbelievable that human kind could do such a thing to nature and therefore itself.

Back in the glorious days of the soviet republic it was decided that modern day Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan should be the cotton house of the union. With gigantic effort the Karakum canal was built to bring water into the desert with the same name. At the same time similar canals where built in what is now Kazakhstan. The result was a short period of world leadership in cotton production followed by a destroyed fishing and shipbuilding industry around what used to be the Aral Sea.

Once one of the four largest lakes in the world (almost twice the size of Switzerland) it is now at around a tenth of its former size. With the shrinking of the lake its previous harbours where left behind in the middle of nowhere. Muynak used to be a major fishing port but now lies more than 200km from the shoreline.
With the massive cotton production tremendous amounts of pesticides and defoliation substances (makes the cotton easier to pick, although not healthier...) end up in the tiny trickle which used to be the mighty Amur Darya.
All this mixed with the dust left behind from the receding lake gave way to the now infamous Aral Sea Dust Storms®. It gets credit for the high rate of respiratory illnesses and cancer in the region...

On the north side Kazakhstan has built a dam to at least save the northern part of the lake. This together with improving the irrigation system and water proofing the canals (sic!) has helped to stabilise it. Further improvements are under way and maybe in a couple of years the former port of Aralsk may open again.

In the south however no such actions have been taken. =/

You should see the satellite pictures...
It was already getting dark when we arrived in Muynak, the former fishing village. We drove out into what used to be water and made camp amid a ground scattered in sea shells.
A cold night later we visited the ship graveyard and its memorial. Driving around town we found an old abandoned canning factory.
Now everything is in ruins but still people endure, makes you think what keeps them here...