shipped 5,000 metric tons of wool, 340 furs, 3,000 sheepskins, 1,500
pairs of woolen gloves and 1,200 pairs of woolen trousers. Now, the
tourists who stop by here can climb aboard the
, a fishing
boat painted bright blue, and look out over the desertified lakebed.
Two rusting cranes that have not been used since the early 1980s
hulk above the otherwise flat horizon.
But the waters that by the early 2000s had retreated 100
kilometers from Aral are now only 20 kilometers away, and
they are coming closer.
“We inherited the problem of the Aral Sea from the Soviet
Union, but as soon as we became independent, we adopted
special programs,” said Zhanbolat Ussenov, director of the
Eurasian Council on Foreign Affairs and former spokesman at
Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry.
“We of course understood that we wouldn’t be able to save the
sea on our own— from neither a financial nor an expertise point
of view—so we created an International Save the Aral fund,”
Ussenov explained. “We invited the World Bank and individual
countries to help us with this environmental catastrophe. And
I’m happy to say that today the Aral Sea is slowly returning to its
he dream of saving the entire Aral Sea—
both North and South—is unrealistic, said
experts who know the region. But everyone
seemed to agree that the first phase of the project
Ussenov alluded to—officially known as the Syr
Darya Control and Northern Aral Sea Project, or
-1—has been a success so far.
Ahmed Shawky M. Abdel-Ghany, a senior
water-resources specialist with the European and
Central Asian region of the World Bank’s Water
Global Practice, has managed the project from his Washington
office since late 2010. He said
-1 cost $83 million, and it
included a subproject for restoration of the North Aral Sea.
“We’re not talking about the whole Aral Sea, just the north-
ern part that fully lies in Kazakhstan,” said the Egyptian civil
engineer, who’s worked in 20 countries during his 12-year career
with the World Bank.
He said that one crucial element of
in 2005 of the 13-kilometer-long Kok-Aral Dam, increased the
volume of water in the North Aral Sea by around 50 percent in
Both North and South Aral Seas have shallow coastlines. At Aral, retreating waters stranded the formerly seaside town
100 kilometers inland; however, in the past decade, the waters have been returning. They now lie about 20 kilometers
from Aral—and they are coming closer.