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September/October 2015

7

“The Soviet engineers didn’t think

about the consequences. They knew the

lake would dry up someday, but they

didn’t care. There was no democracy;

everybody was scared to talk,” Darmenov

said. “Some scientists warned this would

happen, but nobody listened to them. In

1985 people finally began talking, but by

then it was too late.”

By 2000—nine years after the Soviet

Union’s collapse—the once-mighty lake

had separated into two unequal parts: the

North Aral Sea in Kazakhstan, and the

much larger South Aral Sea mostly in Uz-

bekistan. Today all that’s left of the South

Aral Sea is a narrow, crescent-shaped sliver

of water along the western shore, and ex-

perts predict it, too, will disappear because

it has no link to the Amu Darya river that

once fed it.

The level of the Aral Sea in

the late 1950s is customarily

used as the reference to see

how much water has been lost.

In the early 1980s, the acclerating

drop of the sea level is evident.

Salinity is rising; fisheries

are shrinking.

1957

NORTH

ARAL SEA

SOUTH

ARAL SEA

Aral

Zhalanash

Tastubek

Kyzylorda

Baikonur

T U R K M E N I S T A N

U Z B E K I S T A N

K A Z A K H S T A N

K Y R G Y Z S T AN

T A J I K I S T A N

I R A N

S

y

r

D

a

r

y

a

A

m

u

D

a

r

y

a

K

a

r

a

k

u

m

C

a

n

a

l

1982

2000

2015

MAP: ARMANDO PORTELA; OPPOSITE: CHLOE DEWE MATHEWS

Kok-Aral

Dam

(2005)

The Aral Sea splits into North

and South. Not only has it lost

most of its water, but fishing is

also nearly gone. The Kok-Aral

Dam begins to allow waters in

the North Aral Sea to rise.

Despite expansion of the North

Aral Sea, only some eight

percent of the water volume of

the late 1950s remains.

200 km

100 mi