How Kazakhstan contribute on salvation of the Aral Sea

Kazakhstan together with international financial institutions struggle with the solution of one of the biggest environmental disasters of our present time – the restoration of the Aral Sea. And despite the fact that the country has practically no own sources of water and is completely dependent on transboundary rivers.

The torrefaction problem of the Aral Sea standing in front of the planet’s ecologists as sharp as the problem of deforestation of the Amazon forest. In the past 30 years, the Aral Sea has decreased to 10% of its original size. The salt from the dried seabed is not only the region, but also throughout the world, including Antarctica and the North Pole. And it has a strong effect on the melting of the eternal ice.

The States of Central Asia, where the Aral Sea, in recent years trying to deal with the problem. In 1993 the International Rescue Fund Aral sea (IFAS) was established which was even connected to the international institutions. In particular, financial assistance.

In total, the sea rescue goals over the years has been directed about 10 bln. US dollars. However, the member states of the IFAS in different ways handled money. Today, in fact, only one country – Kazakhstan – is making practical efforts to solve this global environmental problem.

Today, the Aral Sea is actually divided into two parts – Large (South) and Small (Northern). The first is located on the territory of Uzbekistan and fed by the waters of one of the largest rivers in the Amudarya region, the second – on the territory of Kazakhstan and replenishes waters of other large rivers – Syrdarya. The last one flows, including through the territory of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, and its waters are widely used for agriculture particularly irrigated agriculture has become the main cause of the Aral Sea shoaling.

In the early 1990s, i.e. since the beginning of operation of IFAS, Kazakhstan directed its efforts to save his part of the sea. There was constructed earthen dam  in order to prevent the outflow of water to the south, where it was losing in vain due to evaporation. Despite the fact that as a result of the catastrophic break in April 1999, the dam was destroyed, attempts showed the possibility in principle to raise the water level and reduce its salinity.

A few years later the World Bank joined the project, allocating 85 mln. US dollars. to build the Kokaral dam. (The project was completed in late 2005). The dam of 13 km long and 6-meter-high is comprised the concrete dam with a gate for regulating water passes from the northern part of the sea into the South.

That is, in fact, Kazakhstan has turned Northern Aral into a closed lake, filling it with water from its own sources. As a result, during only year the water level in Small Aral has risen from 40 to 42 meters above the ocean level. The water surface area has increased by 18%, and the salinity of the water, starting from approximately 20 g / liter, permanently was declining and today is already less than 10 g / l. (Prior shallowing salinity does not exceed 3 g / l). With the return of the water the life of the population in the surrounding region began to recover. The fisheries have been resumed. The ecology is greatly improved of the surrounding areas.

But it is only in Kazakhstan.

Water flows of Amudarya in the Big Aral Sea continues to decline. Today for the irrigation fields leaves 92% diversion of water from the river. That is the water practically does not reach up to the Large (southern) Aral Sea. It is replenished only small discharges water into it from the North, Kazakh, part of the sea. Moreover, unlike in Kazakhstan, which is actively working on the introduction of drip irrigation and other water-saving technologies in agriculture, neither Uzbekistan nor Turkmenistan, nor Tajikistan make any steps in this direction. There would be possible to significantly improve the existing irrigation canals, many of them represent ordinary trench, which seeps through the walls and out into the sand a huge amount of water. Modernization of the entire irrigation system would help to save about 12 cubic km of water annually. However, this is an expensive project – about 16 billion US dollars. Such amount of money in countries which economies hit by severe global crisis couldn’t afford.

In addition, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan continue to increase the volume of farmland occupied by moisture-loving cotton to supply cotton for export. This is also affected the water level in the river.

Amid all this, a few years ago, the President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov, speaking at a meeting of the International Fund for Saving Aral founding states said that to save the Aral Sea “is hardly feasible.” He offered to guide the Fund resources and international donors, not on the sea rescue, but “overcoming the consequences of the drying of the Aral Sea.” He proposed to treat not a disease but its symptoms.

One suggestion was to create a mini-lakes from the remainder of the water and the mass planting of trees on the dried bottom of the Aral Sea. As wells the providing by drinking water supply of the local population and the provision of communal facilities and medical devices for disinfection of water, improvement of water intake facilities with chlorination installations and more.

Moreover, last year the government of Uzbekistan announced the allocation of 4.3 billion US dollars over the next 4 years to mitigate the consequences of the Aral Sea disaster, as well as rehabilitation and socio-economic development of the Uzbek part of the Aral Sea region.

Meanwhile, the Kazakh part of the sea is being actively filled. This contributes to a number of ongoing projects Kazakhstan. Including cleaning Syrdarya. According to experts, even while maintaining the current volume of water flow into the Aral Sea, the northern part of the Aral Sea may fully recover in the next 10-15 years. Along with filling in the sea, Kazakhstan is working to restore the lake systems in the lower reaches of the Syrdarya. It will also contribute to the influx of spring (ground) water into the sea.

However, for full resuscitation of the North part of the Aral Sea requires not only the flow of water, but also the expansion Kokralskoy dam. It is necessary to increase the capacity of accumulating the Northern the Aral Sea and to prevent the growth of volumes of water losses due to runoff in its southern part. Tashkent, Ashgabat and Dushanbe as it was already mentioned do not intend to pursue efforts of restoring that.

For the implementation of the plan to restore the Northern the Aral Sea – Small Aral – Kazakhstan needs help the world’s finance donors. First of all, the World Bank, for the superstructure of the dam.

Resuscitation of the eco-system of the Small Aral Sea through the efforts of Kazakhstan and the international financial institutions, will not only minimize the consequences of ecological catastrophe. But, in the future, will allow the use of accumulated resources and experience to restore the water system ofthe whole region. Unless, of course, the Central Asian states will also make efforts for the preservation of the Aral Sea.

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