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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

Lev Berg

, 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

original boundaries.”

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

three years.

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.