Posted by: shipbright | April 5, 2010

Aral Sea disaster highlighted by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

It just seems impossible that an entire sea could disappear but that is what has been happening for some time now in central asia with the Aral Sea.  Back in August of 2009 I published a post that featured the Aral Sea as an example of our poor freshwater stewardship on this planet:

https://shipbright.wordpress.com/2009/08/12/global-water-basics-the-10000-foot-view/

Yesterday the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon visited the Aral Sea and called it a “shocking disaster”.  Here is the article from the Associated PressBolded statements are my emphasis.

NUKUS, Uzbekistan – The drying up of the Aral Sea is one of the planet’s most shocking environmental disasters, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Sunday as he urged Central Asian leaders to step up efforts to solve the problem.

Once the world’s fourth-largest lake, the sea has shrunk by 90 percent since the rivers that feed it were largely diverted in a Soviet project to boost cotton production in the arid region.

The shrunken sea has ruined the once-robust fishing economy and left fishing trawlers stranded in sandy wastelands, leaning over as if they dropped from the air. The sea’s evaporation has left layers of highly salted sand, which winds can carry as far away as Scandinavia and Japan, and which plague local people with health troubles.

Ban toured the sea by helicopter as part of a visit to the five countries of former Soviet Central Asia. His trip included a touchdown in Muynak, Uzbekistan, a town once on the shore where a pier stretches eerily over gray desert and camels stand near the hulks of stranded ships.

“On the pier, I wasn’t seeing anything, I could see only a graveyard of ships,” Ban told reporters after arriving in Nukus, the nearest sizable city and capital of the autonomous Karakalpak region.

It is clearly one of the worst disasters, environmental disasters of the world. I was so shocked,” he said.

The Aral Sea catastrophe is one of Ban’s top concerns on his six-day trip through the region and he is calling on the countries’ leaders to set aside rivalries to cooperate on repairing some of the damage.

“I urge all the leaders … to sit down together and try to find the solutions,” he said, promising United Nations support.

However, cooperation is hampered by disagreements over who has rights to scarce water and how it should be used.

In a presentation to Ban before his flyover, Uzbek officials complained that dam projects in Tajikistan will severely reduce the amount of water flowing into Uzbekistan. Impoverished Tajikistan sees the hydroelectric projects as potential key revenue earners.

Competition for water could become increasingly heated as global warming and rising populations further reduce the amount of water available per capita.

Water problems also could brew further dissatisfaction among civilians already troubled by poverty and repressive governments; some observers fear that could feed growing Islamist sentiment in the region.

Ban also is taking on the region’s frequently poor human rights conditions.

That is likely to be an especially tense issue when he meets Monday with Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who has led the country since the 1991 Soviet collapse and imposed severe pressure on opposition and civil rights activists.

The meeting comes less than two weeks after the U.N. Human Rights Committee issued a report criticizing Uzbekistan, including calling for fuller investigation of the brutal suppression of a 2005 uprising in the city of Andijan. Opposition and rights groups claim that hundreds were killed, but authorities insist the reports are exaggerated and angrily reject any criticism.

As a loyal reader of Fresh[water] Ideas for a Thirsty Planet you know that:

  • Our freshwater is essentially a finite resource that is controlled by the natural hydrological cycle.  It is not unlimited but it appears so…the paradox of plenty is paucity of attention;
  • The availability of freshwater, its uneven concentration throughout the world, and the human needs for freshwater are the issues we need to address.

The Aral Sea demonstrates what we are capable of if we continue to act in a  shortsighted and selfish manner.  It leads to conflict as we foolishly spend our resources without thought to renewal and sustainability.  I leave off with an excellent video from  liveearth.org

…no water…no civility…no humanity…no civilization…

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