viernes, agosto 23, 2013

Lesson from the Aral Sea - Central Asia

Hoy quiero compartirles un articulo de una compañera de mi curso llamada Margaret Reinhardt. Está en ingles como ella lo escribió originalmente, es una lección de algo que no debiera volver a ocurrir.



The Aral Sea is located in parts of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia, and since the 1950's it has decreased in size to only 1/10 of it's original volume. It was once the 4th largest lake in the world at over 26,000 square miles. It's shrinkage is considered one of the planet's worst environmental disasters.
Who it affects: Over time, the diminishing of the Aral Sea resulted in unemployment and economic hardships in the surrounding fishing industry which employed 40,000 workers. It's current lakebed is highly polluted with toxic chemicals which become airborne resulting in numerous health problems including tuberculosis, high infant mortality rate, and certain cancers. The surrounding populations have limited access to fresh water. What remains of this sea is now as salty as the ocean, and the increased salinity has killed off the natural flora and fauna of the area. The local climate has become drier and hotter in the Summer, and the Winters colder and longer.

Cause: Beginning in the 1950's, water was diverted from 2 major rivers which feed the Aral Sea. At the time, soviet leader Khrushchev wanted to increase the amount of land under production in order to alleviate hunger in the Soviet Union. He instituted the Virgin Lands Campaign to grow wheat and cotton on previously uncultivated lands. 300,000 youth were enlisted to clear the steppes, build irrigation canals, plant and harvest the crops. The campaign was initially successful in 1954, but had mixed results during the following 10 years. Irrigation canals were poorly built and farming practices were poor and badly managed. The degradation to the Aral Sea was already recognized by soviet scientists in the 1960's, but it was trivialized or considered too expensive to resolve at that time.


The restoration of the Aral Sea began receiving attention again only after the demise of the soviet system in 1991. The 5 newly-independent countries in the region agreed to set aside 1% of their budgets to help the sea recover. UNESCO and the World Bank initiated programs which failed to include local input and were discontinued.

A number of processes have been identified in a continuum of solutions:
  • improve the quality of the irrigation canals (reduce amount of water lost to land and evaporation)
  • install desalinization plants (provide fresh water to area)
  • assess fee to farmers for water use
  • plant species that are less water-intensive
  • use fewer chemicals on crops
  • increase crop diversity
  • build dams to fill the Aral Sea
  • redirect water from other rivers
  • pump sea water into the Aral Sea from the Caspian.
The Aral Sea Basin Program (ASBP) was initiated in 1992 by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute based in Islamabad. Although it established 4 key objectives, it encountered problems due to the various stakeholders having different priorities. By 1997, it settled on a plan to upgrade the current irrigation systems and focus on local water management. The largest project involved the construction of a dam which resulted in significant improvement in the northern portion of the Aral Sea.

Unfortunately, the southern – and largest – portion of the Aral Sea is dominated by the govt of Uzbekistan which controls cotton production, called “white gold.” It is dependent on irrigation and refuses to change. The production of cotton is an example of another problem, monoculture. Not only is it water-intensive, but requires excess chemicals and uses child labor.

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