How the Aral Sea died: One of the most terrible environmental disasters in the modern world
Raising a toast at his wedding with Madame Gritsatsueva for irrigation of Uzbekistan, Ostap Bender hardly thought about the possible sad future of the Aral Sea. But it was the thoughtless irrigation of the Central Asian republics carried out in the Soviet Union that ultimately led to the almost complete disappearance of this reservoir, and at the same time to an environmental disaster.
About half a century ago, the Aral Sea was considered the fourth largest lake on our planet. However, in the 60s, intensive withdrawal of water for irrigation began, the purpose of which was to increase the sown area of cotton. Over the millennia, the size of the Aral Sea changed greatly, since it happened that the Amu Darya changed its course and went to the Caspian Sea, but after a while it returned and the Aral Sea restored its area. Now, due to irrigation, the runoff of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya has been greatly reduced, underground sources, plus rain and snow are not able to cover the evaporation. This has led to the fact that the amount of water in the lake is constantly decreasing, but its salinity is increasing.
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Until 1985, the problem of the Aral Sea was hidden from Soviet citizens. The first to the general public decided to convey the truth to Mikhail Gorbachev. Many people were shocked to learn about the critical situation around the Aral Sea, but no one wanted to reduce the withdrawal of water from the Amu Darya and Syr Darya.
The end of the 80s for the Aral Sea actually meant that it ceased to exist as a whole. The lake was clearly divided into 2 parts - Small Aral in the north and Big Aral in the south. In 2007, the Great Aral was clearly divided into 2 parts, which were connected by a small isthmus. The volume of the large Aral Sea fell to 75 km3 instead of the former 708. At the same time, the salinity of the water rose from 14 to about 100 g / l. Now, on the site of the southern Aral Sea, the Aralkum desert has formed. From the large port of Aralsk, the coastline went about 100 km.
In the channel of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, sewage and drainage water comes from the fields. And these fields in Soviet times were quite heavily covered with pesticides and other fertilizers. Now they are placed in the form of sediments on the former bottom of the Aral Sea. The total area of infection is approximately 54 thousand km2. Moreover, powerful winds blowing over the Aralkum carry harmful compounds over long distances. The local population has sharply increased the number of respiratory, oncological and other diseases.
The drying up of the Aral Sea had disastrous consequences for its inhabitants, as well as the inhabitants of the coastal territory. As the river flow drastically decreased, spring floods ceased, which previously supplied the lower reaches of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya with useful sediments and fresh water. As a result, agricultural activity in the lower reaches of these rivers almost completely ceased. Previously, 32 species of fish were found in river deltas, now only 6 of them remain.
Before the catastrophic fall in the Aral Sea level, there were 2 large ports on its shores - Muynak and Aralsk, now the sea has left, leaving behind the rusty remains of the ships. At the beginning of the 60s, about 40 thousand tons of commercial fish were caught in the Aral Sea. The increasing salinity of the lake led to the death of commercial fish. The flounder introduced from the Black Sea lasted the longest, but even she disappeared from the Great Aral Sea by 2003. The cessation of fishing caused a powerful blow to the entire infrastructure of the Aral Sea region - about 60 thousand jobs were lost.
The movement of ships in the Aral Sea ceased, although they tried to maintain it for some time by bringing the shipping channels to Muynak and Aralsk, but this became economically inexpedient. The shallowing of the Aral Sea led to a drop in groundwater levels. If earlier the coast of the Aral Sea in many places was covered with dense greenery, then now almost everywhere there are deserts, only grasses adapted to saline soils have survived. The climate has also changed - winters have become colder, and summer temperatures are higher. The amount of precipitation was greatly reduced, and droughts became a frequent occurrence. The reduction in vegetation has led to a sharp decrease in the number of mammals and birds living in the area of the reservoir. It is believed that the number of species of birds and mammals has decreased by half, with a concurrent sharp drop in their numbers.
On the island of Renaissance in the Soviet Union, experiments were carried out to create bacteriological weapons. Since such developments were prohibited by international treaties, they were carried out in secret laboratories. Over time, a small closed city grew on the island. The collapse of the Soviet Union led to the elimination of a secret training ground, but they could not take out a lot of valuable equipment. All the more or less valuable in a fairly short time plundered looters. In 2001, the island of Renaissance connected to the mainland, now local residents fear that the microorganisms have survived and threaten epidemics. Of particular concern are infected rodents - they are able to spread the disease to other regions.
Now it is almost impossible to completely restore the Aral Sea - this requires approximately $ 16 billion to modernize the irrigation system and increase by 4 times the total annual flow of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. However, the Central Asian states do not have money for the modernization of irrigation, but they intend to increase water withdrawal from rivers in order to increase the sown area of cotton.