The Shrinking of the Aral Sea

By Kimutai Gilbert on August 1 2017 in Environment

A shipwreck in the Aral Sea that has been exposed by the sea's drying.

Where Is The Aral Sea?

The Aral Sea was once the fourth largest lake in the world that covered an area of 68,000 square km. It is in located between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Since the 1960s, the Aral Sea has been shrinking after the Soviet irrigation projects diverted the rivers that drained their waters into this sea.

The Shrinking Of The Aral Sea

During the 1960s, the Soviet government decided to divert the rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya that fed the Aral Sea with their waters. The two rivers were diverted to provide water for irrigation as the government wanted to boost the growth of cotton, cereals, melons, and rice. The construction of the irrigation canals begun in the 1940s. By 1960, the amount of water that was going to the land instead of the lake was approximately 4.8 cubic meters per year. From 1961 to 1970, the average fall of water per year was about 7.9 cubic meters. In the 1970s, the shrink went up nearly thrice as the average drop per year was 20 cubic meters. In the 1980s, the average decline per year was 31 cubic meters. In 1987, the sea divided into two different bodies of the North and South Aral Sea. By 1998, the surface of the sea had shrunk by about 60% and the volume by 80%. In that year, the Aral Sea was covering an area of 28,687 square km down from its size of 68,000 square km in 1960. In 2004, the sea covered a surface area of about 17,160 square km.

The Present State Of The Aral Sea

The diversion of water sources that fed the Aral Sea has caused the sea to decline over the years. It has since then broken into smaller parts leaving behind vast areas as deserts which has triggered social, environmental, and economic problems in the region. There have been restoration efforts in the northern section of the Aral Sea with the aim of restoring the fishing industry.

Possible Solutions

To avoid water loss from the Aral Sea, there should be an improvement of the quality of the irrigation canals. The materials used should not lose water in any form. The water lost by evaporation and leaking could have instead helped fill the basin. Dams should also be installed to help collect water in the sea. Low-cost desalination techniques have to be adopted to reduce soil salinization in the area. Water from Volga and Ob rivers could be redirected to feed the Aral Sea to restore its initial levels. Draining water into the sea through pumping from the Caspian Sea can be done by the use of a pipeline. The above solutions can help restore the original levels of Aral Sea.

The declining of the Aral Sea has taken the term "world’s worst environmental disaster." The reason to this is because the once significant fishing industry has deteriorated and the environment polluted causing severe unemployment and health problems. Several committees and organizations have come up to try and find a solution to this issue. The sooner they find a solution the better.

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