The Aral Sea: An Ecological Disaster


I. Rudenko, J. P. A. Lamers


I. Rudenko, J. P. A. Lamers (2010). Case Study #8-6, "The Aral Sea: An Ecological Disaster". In: Per Pinstrup-Andersen and Fuzhi Cheng (editors), "Food Policy for Developing Countries: Case Studies." 14 pp.


The dimension of the human-induced ecological disaster in Central Asia is probably best illustrated in the desiccation of the Aral Sea. In 1960 this water body had a surface area of more than 68,000 square kilometers (km2) and was the fourth-largest freshwater lake in the world. In 2009 only the "Small Aral," the western part of the "Large Aral," and a little pond from the eastern part of the "Large Aral" remained.

Much has been written and said on the causes and consequences of the vanishing Aral Sea. Numerous donors and international organizations have implemented more than 20 large-scale projects worth about US$500 million in the Aral Sea Basin (ASB). Concurrently, much research has focused on how to reverse the negative trend or mitigate its negative impact on the environment, economy, and health of the people. Nonetheless, the Aral Sea has not been restored. Worse, in the past decade the remnants of the Aral Sea have desiccated even faster than calculations and model simulations predicted. The complete loss of the economical use of the Aral Sea threatens the livelihood and health of the population. The disastrous degradation of the ecosystems has led to the virtual extinction of unique flora and fauna and to a dramatic increase in human illnesses such as respiratory diseases, hepatitis, and anemia. Have all of the research and the efforts to save the Aral Sea been in vain? Can the Aral Sea, or at least part of it, still be saved? Or must the local and global communities focus merely on mitigating the severe environmental and human consequences of the sea's desiccation? And if so, how?

Your assignment is to formulate policy recommendations for the riparian states in Central Asia to deal with the problems identified in this case.

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