June 14, 2005

The Aral Sea

In the 1950s a new agricultural production boomed in the east. The once *5756 square kilometer lake, lying between the countries of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, shrunk to a mere *4131 square kilometers by 1997. The lake continues to shrink damaging the inhabitants of the region. There are many factors to take into account when answering the question, “Why is the lake shrinking?” These factors are what the lake water is used for, what the inflowing river water is used for, and how the region has changed since the 1950s. After discovering why the lake is shrinking a plan needs to be implemented to change the future of the area. Some very important details to consider in a plan are who the plan will help, and who the plan will hurt. All of these things when taken into consideration will build a plan to save the lake, economy, and inhabitants of the area.
With the 1950s a new agricultural product began to grow rapidly in the eastern countries of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. As the demand for cotton grew, farmers started growing more cotton, thus needing more water to irrigate with. The water that is used in irrigation, in this case, is drawn from the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers, two main inlets into the Aral Sea. The demand for cotton, and other farmed products grew as the population in the area boomed (from 7.3 million people in 1930 to 33 million people in 1990). As the population increased the need of water for daily uses increased causing more water to be taken from the rivers and lake.

As the amount of water being taken from the rivers increased the lake size decreased. The less water flows into the lake, the less water will be in the lake. When the water evaporated massive amounts of salt were left behind. After time the evaporation caused the rim of the lake to back far from docks used for fishing in the lake. This caused the commercial fishing industry to stop entirely during to 1980s. The shrinking of the surface area of the lake also caused the evaporation rate to go down dramaticly. Along with the increase in agricultural production more poisons and fertilizers were used. As these poisonous remnants are blown around they poison groundwater, and the lake. These contaminants cause many deadly diseases to the people if the Aral Sea area. These diseases include viral hepatitis, typhoid fever, cancer, respiratory problems such as asthma, intestinal problems, as well as birth defects. As the sea dries up more land is revealed and left to be inhabited by various rodents. These rodents also cause and carry many diseases, the most dangerous being the plague.

The only people who are truly benefiting from the shrinking of the Aral Sea are the farmers, and even they and their families are in danger of bad health. To get rid of these many problems, many regulations would have to be put into order. One such regulation would address the amount of fertilization and chemicals the farmers are using, verses water. If the chemicals that are being used are sinking into the ground too much it can mean one (or in this case both) of two things. Either the farmers are using too much water for the fields or they are using too many chemicals. Using too many chemicals could also be a cause for to excess blowing around in the wind. If the farmers would use less water and less chemicals more water would flow into the lake, and less toxic chemicals would seep into ground water or travel through the air making people sick. This solution would not hurt the farmers, and it would benefit the people living in the region by lessening the risk of illness. The solution would not help the fishermen immediately because the amount of water the farmers would be saving would not be enough to refill the lake all the way back to where it was when their business was good for several years. One problem that could possibly occur if this plan were put into action would be that the rat and rodent population would migrate out of the dry lakebed and into the city, or farming field and cause more damage, spreading deadly diseases worse than before. This solution is one of many that could save the shrinking lake and the inhabitants of the area from more pain, naturally, biologically, and agriculturally. Though it would take time for the lake to rebuild its self, it is a very important thing, worth waiting for. If done correctly the lake will refill and the people of the area wouldn’t be troubled with as many illnesses caused by the farming and dry lakebed, and old industries, such as fishing, could come back to the area. The most important thing is that the plan needs to be able to basically work its self. If nature works with people, instead of people trying to do everything, the lake could refill and nature could sort its self out.


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