Kazakh Dam Could Save Northern Aral Sea, But Kill Southern Portion

A seven-mile dam now under construction could mean total devastation for a large southern section of the already beleaguered Aral Sea, which straddles the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia. Once the world’s fourth largest inland sea, the Aral has lost half its depth and 90 percent of its volume over the past 40 years; many of its troubles began decades ago, when the USSR drew large amounts of water out of the sea in order to irrigate cotton and rice fields in the desert. Experts consider the Aral’s decline to be one of the worst human-caused ecological disasters in history, one which has been disastrous for local people who formerly earned their livings as fishers and farmers. In an effort to restore the northern part of the sea, Kazakhstan is building a dam that will keep the waters of a major tributary confined to a small area, but this will leave much of the rest of the sea without water.