Environmental Problems In Aral Sea
Environmental problems in Aral Sea
The environmental problems of the Aral Sea basin are among the worst in the world. Water diversions, agricultural practices, and industrial waste have resulted in a disappearing sea, salinization, and organic and inorganic pollution. The problems of the Aral, which previously had been an internal issue of the Soviet Union, became internationalized after its collapse in 1991. The five new major riparian – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – have been struggling since that time to help stabilize, and eventually to rehabilitate, the watershed.
The Aral Sea was, until comparatively recently, the fourth largest inland body of water in the world. Its basin covers 1.8 million km2, primarily in what used to be the Soviet Union, and what are now the independent republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Small portions of the basin headwaters are also located in Afghanistan, Iran, and China. The major sources of the Sea, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, are fed from glacial melt water from the high mountain ranges of the Pamir and Tien Shan in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Irrigation in the fertile lands between the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya dates back millennia, although the Sea itself remained in relative equilibrium until the early 1960’s. At that time, the central planning authority of the Soviet Union devised the “Aral Sea plan” to transform the region into the cotton belt of the USSR. Vast irrigation projects were undertaken in subsequent years, with irrigated area expanding by over one-third from 1965 to 1988.
Such intensive cotton monoculture has resulted in extreme environmental degradation. Pesticide use and salinization, along with the region’s industrial pollution, have decreased water quality, resulting in high rates of disease and infant mortality. Water diversions, sometimes totaling more than the natural flow fo the rivers, have reduced the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya to relative trickles – the Sea itself has lost 75% of its volume, half its surface area, and salinity has tripled, all since 1960. The exposed sea beds are thick with salts and agricultural chemical residue, which are carried aloft by the winds as far as the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Attempts at Conflict Management
The intensive problems of the Aral basin were internationalized with the breakup of the Soviet Union. Prior to 1988, both use and conservation of natural resources often fell under the jurisdiction of the same Soviet agency, each of which often acted as powerful independent entities. In January 1988, a state committee for the protection of nature was formed, elevated as the Ministry for Natural Resources and Environmental Protection in 1990. The Ministry, in collaboration with the Republics, had authority over all aspects of the environmental and the use of natural resources. This centralization came to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The five major riparian were initially regulated by ad hoc intergovernmental agreements based on Soviet quotas. In February 1992, the five republics negotiated an agreement to coordinate policies on their transboundary waters.
The Agreement on Cooperation in the Management, Utilization and Protection of Interstate Water Resources was signed on February 18, 1992 by representatives from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The Agreement calls on the riparian, in general terms, to coordinate efforts to “solve the Aral Sea crisis,” including exchanging information, carrying out joint research, and adhering to agreed-to regulations for water use and protection. The Agreement also establishes the Interstate Commission for Water Management coordination to manage, monitor, and facilitate the Agreement. Since its inception, the Commission has prepared annual plans for water allocations and use, and defined water use limits for each riparian state.
In a parallel development, an Agreement on Joint Actions for Addressing the Problems of the Aral Sea and its Coastal Area, Improving of the Environment and Ensuring the Social and Economic Development of the Aral Sea Region was signed by the same five riparian on March 26, 1993. This Agreement also established a coordinating body, the Interstate Council for the Aral Sea, which was designated as the organization having primary responsibility for “formulating policies and preparing and implementing programs for addressing the crisis.” Each state’s minister of water management is a member of the Council. In order to mobilize and coordinate funding for the Council’s activities, the International Fund for the Aral Sea was created in January 1993.
A long term “Concept” and a short-term “Program” for the Aral Sea was adopted at a meeting of the Heads of Central Asian states in January 1994. The Concept describes a new approach to development of the Aral Sea basin, including a strict policy of water conservation. The Aral Sea itself was recognized as a legitimate water user for the first time. The Program has four major objectives:
o to stabilize the environment of the Aral Sea;
o to rehabilitate the disaster zone around the Sea;
o to improve the management of international waters of the basin; and
o to build the capacity of regional institutions to plan and implement these programs.
Phase I of the Program, which will cost $260 million over three years, began implementation in 1995. These regional activities are supported and supplemented by a variety of governmental and non-governmental agencies, including the European Union, the World Bank, UNEP, and UNDP.
Despite this forward momentum, some concerns have been raised about the potential effectiveness of these plans and institutions. Some have noted that not all promised funding has been forthcoming. Others, Dante Caponera (1995), for example, have noted duplication and inconsistencies in the agreements, and warn that they seem to accept the concept of “maximum utilization” of the waters of the basin. Vinagradov (1996) has noted especially the legal problems inherent in these agreements, including some confusion between regulatory and development functions, especially between the Commission and the Council.
The Aral Sea degradation
T he Aral Sea is the largest inland body of salty reservoirs in the world. Situated in the centre of the Central Asian deserts at an altitude of 53 metres above the sea level, the Aral Sea functions as a gigantic evaporator. About 60 km2 of water evaporates per year.
The sea contributed to hydrothermal regime improvement, influenced water regimes of arid plants, pastures productivity, and provided normal functioning of artesian wells etc. Ecological balance in the basin was formed in the first half of the 20th century and was stable up to the beginning of the 1960’s, with a volume of 1,064 km, and a water territory of 66.4 thousand km.
Because of irrevocable removal of river water on irrigated territories, ecological balance began to decline. Only half of the previous river runoff reached the Aral Sea. But even this quantity of water was not sufficient to support sea level at 53 m.
However as a result of a tendency of economy development in agrarian areas, leading to growth of irrigated territories and volumes of irrevocable water consumption during years of water shortages, water flow into deltas of the AmuDarya and SyrDarya rivers was reduced sharply. In 1982 and 1983 this made up only 2.28 and 3.25 km3, respectively. Since 1961 the sea level has declined with increasing speed from 20 to 80-90 cm per year.
During the last 35 years, from 1960 to 1995, the sea received less than 1,000 km3 of river water, which led to the lowering of the sea level by 17 m, accompanied by a reduction of the volume of the water area by 75%. As a result of the complete stop of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya runoff and expansion of irrigated territories without any control of the Aral Sea and environmental needs, a serious complex of ecological, social and economic problems was formed in the Pre-Aral area. These problems by origin and level of consequences have an international character. The sea has lost its fishery and transport importance. It was divided into two parts, the Bolshoi and the Maly (Northern) Aral, and moved 100-150 km away from the original shore.
Development of ecological crisis in the basin of the Aral Sea (1966-1996)
Units of measurement 1966 1976 1996 2000
Territory of “new” salty desert appeared as a result of the sea drying off. sq. km. No 130200 38000 42000
Physical mass of salt, dust and wastes within salty desert mln ton. No 500 2300 3300
Territory of salt and dust spread thousand sq. km No (in fact,mitigate and favourable impact of the Aral sea on territory 68900sq.km) 100-150 250-300 400-450
Growth of withdrawal and fall out of salts and dust kg/hect No 100-200 500-700 700-1100
Population in the zone of ecological crisis thousand people No 500-600 3000-3500 3500-7000
Impact on climate regime
Sharp continental climate is a feature of the Pre-Aral area climate. During the last 5-10 years the drying off of the Aral Sea, brought about noticeable changes in climate conditions. In the past the Aral was considered a regulator mitigating cold winds from Siberia and reducing the summer heat. Climate changes have led to a dryer and shorter summer in the region, and longer and colder winters. The vegetative season has been reduced to 170 days. The pasture productivity has decreased by a half, and meadow vegetation destruction has decreased meadow productivity 10 times. On the shores of the Aral Sea precipitation was reduced several times. Average precipitation magnitude is 150-200 mm with considerable seasonal ununiformity.
High evaporation is marked while air moisture is reduced by 10%. Air temperature during winters has fallen, and summer temperatures have increased by 2-3 degrees C, including observations of 49 degrees C.
Frequent occurrence of long dust storms and ground winds is characteristic feature of the Pre-Aral area climate. Strong winds often blow in the region. They are the most intensive on the western coast – with perhaps more than 50 days of storms per year. Maximum wind velocity reaches 20-25 m/s.
These climatic conditions defined that agriculture without irrigation is impossible. The result is intensive accumulation of salt in the soil leading to water use for watering plants and washing off lands.
Impact on soil structure
Most of the sands and soils in the Pre-Aral area are light and easily transported by wind.
The drying off of the Aral Sea resulted in two different kinds of desertification. The newly dried sea bed, and the artificial water logging of irrigated lands. As a result, a new desert “Aralkum” appeared in the centre of the great deserts. It is solid salt-marsh consisting of finely-dispersed sea depositions and remnants of mineral deposits, washed away from irrigated fields.
A new qualitative phase of desertification affecting the Pre-Aral ecosystem degradation, regional and global climate, mountainous flow-forming systems and water-salty regime of agricultural zone takes place.
The sea bed, formerly referred to as a so-called “fresh water maker” of vast water collecting basin at the expense of rich sea hydrobiocenose activity, is an artificial anthropogenesis volcano, throwing tremendous masses of salt and finely-dispersed dust into the atmosphere. Pollution is increased because the Aral Sea is located along a powerful air stream running from west to east. It contributes to aerosol transference into upper layers and fast spread in the atmosphere of the Earth. That is why traces of pesticides from the Aral region were found in the blood of penguins in the Antarctic, and typical Aral dust has been found on Greenland’s glaciers, in Norway’s forests, and Byelorussia’s fields, all situated thousands of kilometers away from Central Asia.
Impact on inhabitation sphere
T he Aral disaster has deteriorated the sphere of inhabitation of the region sharply, due to polluting of the atmosphere, the drinking water and the soil.
An evaluation of the field withdrawal from the dry parts of the Aral Sea bed shows that this magnitude varies from several hundred thousand tons to 20-30 million tons per year. In the composition of dust cloud suspended solids in the form of aerosols with agricultural pesticides, fertilizers and other harmful components of industrial and municipal sewage prevail. Salt content makes up 0.5-1.5%. Sand-and-salt aerosol effects on oasis soils and pastures are predominantly negative. Replacing multilayer herbage by single-layer, reduces the quantity of useful feeding plants, and often plants that have no feeding value are cultivated.
Two million hectares of fertile lands disappeared as a result of over watering and as a result of fast rise of ground water they got polluted for the second time.
Today these lands are either water logged or salinized. Former arid soils of the Pre-Aral area with automorphic feed and moisture regime became meadow-swamp soils with hydromorphic regime. To support this regime artificially it is necessary to raise standards by 2-3 times, in order not to activate the secondary salinization process. A vicious circle of agriculture was formed in this region, where heavy swamped lands are left.
The land-improvement condition of irrigated soils in Central Asia is worsened by collective-drainage water saturated with pesticides and discharged as return runoff into numerous local landscape depressions. As a result, artificial reservoirs-accumulators appear. These reservoirs are a real disaster for surrounding lands. Some of them cause secondary pollution when poisonous bed depositions become dry and are brought on irrigated lands, ruin them and pollute the atmosphere in the surrounding regions.
Impact on ecosystems
The Pre-Aral area is characterized by a complex spatial structure of ecosystems. These are influenced by the physical and geographical conditions of the region, the consequences of its economic utilization during many centuries, and the active influence of modern anthropogenesis processes. Pre-Aral ecosystems are developing in extreme conditions of desert. The factors limiting biota development were established by nature itself. The Pre-Aral area has suffered from anthropogenesis processes for a long time, both regionally and locally. Anthropogenesis impacts have caused transformations of natural ecosystems which finally led to dramatic changes and degradation.
The ecosystems of delta valleys have been transformed greatly by agricultural land use for many centuries. Irrigated or cultivated fields, rice fields and non-cultivated agricultural lands which are characterized by different stages of soil and vegetation cover rehabilitation, are singled out. The following anthropogenic factors that brought about changes in the ecosystems should be considered according to their significance: pastures, land-use, agriculture, transport, city, rural, military objects, hydrotechnical (artificial reservoirs, dams, canals, sewage accumulators), and cattle-breeding.
Impact on the social and economic spheres
The process of degradation in the Aral region caused progressive crises in the social and economic spheres. The primary victims of the crises were the most vulnerable layers of population, namely children, women, ill-paid inhabitants of cities and rural areas. The region has the highest child mortality rate in the former USSR (75 children per 1000 newly born), high level of maternity death: about 120 women per 10,000 births. Diseases such as TB, infections and parasites, typhus, hepatite, paratyphoid always accompany poverty.
The disease rate has a tendency to increase. In the epicenter of ecological disaster, anemia, disfunction of thyroid the gland, kidney and liver diseases are wide spread. Blood, oncological diseases, asthma and heart diseases are progressing. Medical research proves that the incidence and growth of these diseases are directly dependent on ecological disaster.
KAZAKHSTAN INSTITUTE OF MANAGEMENT, ECONOMICS AND
Course: Natural Resource Management
Environmental Problems in Aral Sea
Instructor: Dennis Soltys
Student: Dias Ablayev
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3. http://www.transboundarywaters.orst.edu/ projects/casestudies/aral_sea
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6. Ministerial conference of the Central Asia. “Assessment of the environment”. Aarhus, Denmark, 1998.
7. J.Mahambetova. “Non-government union “Aral tenizi”. Aralsk, 1999.