Aral Sea dying out, despair haunt people - GulfToday

Aral Sea dying out, despair haunt people

As a consequence of a massive water diversion project to irrigate surrounding areas, the lake is drying up fast.

As a consequence of a massive water diversion project to irrigate surrounding areas, the lake is drying up fast.

Aral Sea, which is a large water body at the intersection of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in central Asia, is now on the verge of being drained out. Right now it is a quarter of what it was a century ago, and the water levels have fallen so low that is divided into two parts, one in Kazakhstan and the other in Uzbekistan.

Experts studying the shrinking of the Aral Sea have declared it a man-made disaster. During the Soviet era, when these central Asian republics were part of the Soviet Union, the inland sea was drained out through irrigation canals, and cotton was grown, and there was prosperity. But this also resulted in land degradation and led to desertification.

The people who have been living on the banks of the sea for generations are now face to face with the disastrous disappearance of the inland water body dying out before their eyes. With the death of the Aral Sea, there is an increase in dust storms because there is no vegetation and there is no resistance to the northern winds. An Associated Press (AP) news agency study shows that the people living on the banks of the sea are in total despair because they do not know anything else than farming. They are also facing water shortages, malnutrition and health hazards.

The Aral Sea has provided sustenance for nearly a thousand years for many of the tribes in the region. It was replenished by the melting glaciers flowing from the north, and by the river Syr Darya. The Aral Sea had been a civilising force in the history of the nomadic people. When modern methods of agriculture were applied rigorously, the natural source was exhausted. The natural water body could not be exploited for too long without causing harm. The disappearance of the Aral Sea would be the first prominent example of how a natural resource is destroyed by modern methods of agriculture and also of people flocking to the place because of the agricultural boom.

The lesson is clear. If there is a natural resource, there is a need to protect it. It cannot be misused or overused through short-sighted policies and unsustainable methods of development. The irrigation projects across the world where small and big dams had been built across the rivers have brought in their wake development and prosperity for rural communities, but they also choked the rivers. The assumption of modern planners was that the river water was flowing into the sea which is a waste, and that it could be better utilised for improving the lives of the people living on its banks. But the logic boomeranged. And in the case of the Aral Sea, the over-exploitation of its limited water resource has shown how quickly a natural asset can be wiped out.

There are quite a few lessons that the dying Aral Sea seems to tell us. It shows that water resource is in the form of rivers and inland bodies like the Aral Sea, not an inexhaustible source, and they have to be used frugally to maintain the balance as it were. It is a historical phenomenon that rivers change course due to flooding and other reasons.

The rivers have their own natural life-cycle as it were. And it has to be understood and respected. And this has become an imperative in case of assets like the Aral Sea which had the capacity to support a limited number of people and their livelihoods. And if this inbuilt limitation of a natural resource is ignored, then disaster would follow. The people living on the banks of the Aral Sea would have to migrate and change their occupations. There is a tragedy lurking there because there are no greener pastures in the literal and metaphorical senses.