n October 2014, the
National Aeronautic and Space
released images of the Aral Sea
taken by its Terra satellite. These were among the first
to show the South Aral Sea’s entire eastern basin as
bone-dry—a dramatic difference from a similar image
taken in August 2000. “This is the first time the eastern
basin has completely dried in modern times,” said
geographer and Aral Sea expert Philip Micklin of West-
ern Michigan University. “And it is likely the first time it has
completely dried in 600 years, since the medieval desiccation
associated with diversion of Amu Darya to the Caspian Sea.”
Aral, population just above 30,000, is the largest town on
the northeast shore of the North Aral Sea, and some 73,000
people remain living in the surrounding region. Here, ex-
plained Darmenov, the Kazakh government and World Bank
must work together with the Syr Darya river to save the sea.
The river is the sea’s sole source of replenishment, and its fate
is still largely determined by cyclical rainfall patterns, as well
as snowmelt from the distant Tien Shan Mountains.
“This is not about money, or about what man can do. Every-
thing depends on nature,” said Darmenov. The akim’s office is
decorated with a gold-framed portrait of 75-year-old President
Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has led Kazakhstan since 1989, two
years before it declared independence from the Soviet Union. “We
Kazakh translator Dinara Kassymova poses in Aral with two
boys. In 2014, British rock band Pink Floyd hired local boys for
“Louder than Words,” a music video that looked at Aral
through the eyes of youth.
Along the shore of the North Aral Sea, a wedding gives an occasion for a dance in the village of Tastubek, where fish
catches are rising with sea levels.