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n October 2014, the


National Aeronautic and Space

Administration (



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.