Friday, October 31, 2014

Window on Eurasia: The Aral Sea Can’t be Saved but the People around It Must Be Helped

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 31 – For most of the last 60 years, regional and international observers have bemoaned the dying of the Aral Sea and asked how it might be saved, but now that body of water has passed the point of no return and can’t be restored. That in no way, however, reduces the responsibility of the international community to help those who are suffering from its demise.


            In messages to an Urgench conference on the fate of the Aral, both Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said that the sea cannot be restored but that the impact of its death on the environment and health of the people living around its former coastline (


            The Aral Sea’s death was the result of explosive population growth in Central Asia, Moscow’s imposition of water-intensify cotton monoculture on the region in order to control its population, and the failure of littoral countries to make arrangements for the sharing of water in the rivers that fed it without harming the sea itself.


            But as the sea has died, the consequences of its death are becoming ever more serious. It has already created a public health crisis in Karakalpakia, the autonomous region in the western portion of Uzbekistan, which has seen infant mortality and cancer skyrocket largely as a result of the spreading of rare earth minerals from the former seabed into the atmosphere.


            The health crisis there is now going to spread to other parts of Central Asia, and it will be a measure of the willingness of the international community to assume responsibility f hasor their well-being to see whether the health of Central Asians will attract as much attention in the future as the dying of the Aral Sea has in the past.


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