Comparing The Uzbek And Kazakh Sides Of The Aral Sea
Scientists of the world share a common opinion: the Aral Sea perished due to inefficient use of water.
In the mid-20th century, the major flows from the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya rivers, which previously fed the the sea, were diverted for field irrigation.
In the 1960s, the Aral Sea started to shrink. Today, the lake has lost 90% of its area.
The ecological tragedy explicitly affected two countries: Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
We compared the current situation on the two shores.

During the Soviet era, up to 1985, people did not speak about the Aral Sea's decline. The sea was drastically shrinking, but its boundaries did not change on any map. Only some scientists, high-level officials, and local residents were aware of the Aral Sea transformation. The USSR's largest research institutes studied the Aral Sea, but the research results were considered to be secret, confidential.

In 1974, the USSR Academy of Sciences issued a brochure (for official use only) which listed the forecasted environmental disasters in the Aral Sea region. The document stated that unrestrained use of water for irrigation of cotton fields would not bring any perceptible gain in the cotton production, but that the resulting sea area reduction would affect climate change and cause leaching. That's what happened in the end.

It is interesting to know that the current border across the Aral Sea between the two countries appeared only in 1963.

The Aral Sea: 20th Century
Starting from the early 1960s, the area of irrigated lands constantly grew in the Aral Sea region. In 1960, there were 4.1 million hectares of irrigated lands in the Aral Sea basin – by 1990 there were 7.4 million hectares.
Move the slider right and left to compare Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan figures:
More figures: For the same period – from the early 1960s to the late 1980s, the tractor fleet in the Aral Sea region increased 3.2 times. The usage of mineral fertilizers grew 3.5-6 times. The current situation is as follows.
The launch of the 2nd stage of Karakum irrigation canal, 1960, photograph from the Big Soviet Encyclopedia.
In the 1950s, the construction of large irrigation canals started in the Aral Sea region. The canals brought water from the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya rivers to the Central Asian deserts and semi-deserts. The water was used for arable farming. The Karakum canal – the largest canal – was constructed along the south part of Turkmenistan. The canal took 15% of Amu Darya's discharge. However, the structure did not have a proper insulation, and half of the water was lost in the sand. The ground water level significantly grew along the canal line, salt was raising up, and numerous solonchaks (salinated fields) appeared. In order to prevent the land salinization they started to wash the soil, which increased the water consumption.

Demographics also affected the Aral Sea. The population in the Aral Sea region rapidly grews in the second half of the 20th century.
When the sea left, more than 40,000 Kazakhs left the Aral Sea region, and around 50,000 left Kara-Kalpak.
The Aral Sea of today
Currently, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya rivers' discharge is more than 115 cubic kilometers of water per year. Only 6 cubic kilometers reach the Aral Sea.
Nearly 100% of total discharge of the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya rivers is used for irrigation purposes.
Which means that only 5.2% of the two rivers' flow, needed to supply the Aral Sea, actually reaches it.
In the 1960s, the two largest ports in the Aral Sea were Muynak Port in Uzbekistan and Aralsk in Kazakhstan.
Today, both ports survive rather than live. Muynak sustains tourism and farming. Aralsk has an operating fish processing plant, for the present-day catch of 8,0000 tons annually in the Small Aral Sea.

This is what the major sea monuments in the two cities, now shrunken, look like:

Muynak's Stories
Stories of people from Muynak people were recorded for the project
"ЛИВЕНЬ. Living Asia" project.

70-year-old Bahyibek Yahyibek Ugli is a local celebrity. He is one of the last Uzbek fishermen to fish in the Aral Sea.
The old fisherman and his family live in a small settlement of Porlytau (Muynak distrit, Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan). Of 28 settlement inhabitants who were sent to work in the sea by the collective farm long ago, he is the only one who abided to his occupation until his pension age. Others could stand it for less than one year – seasickness, strong winds and winter frosts did them in.

Bahyibek shipped out for the first time at the age of 17.

– Our region was a promising one. Every day we caught tons of fish – big, good fish - together with hundreds of other Muynak fishermen. We supplied it to buyers on the shore and returned to the sea. We could not even think that in a couple of decades everything would change.

Everything changed all of a sudden. One day a group of fishermen and myself were sent not to the Aral Sea, but to Sarykamysh in Turkmenistan. I visited home, my settlement during six years of my stay there. But we were coldly separated from the sea.

After his stay in Turkmenistan, Bahyibek returned to his native village. He worked in "Amu Darya" fish farm located in the Kok-Su dam lake five kilometers from Porlytau.

When he retired, the fisherman got "Volna" a motor boat. It's rusted and can't float any more. He put it in his yard near to gate as a remembrance. He says: "When I pass it, I spank its forage as if it were my best friend."

Muynak settlement is located 25 kilometers from Porlytau. Sagytjan, a former fisherman, lives here.
He is 50, so the sea was before his time; he fished only in the man-made lakes. He did not like this job very much, as it was a long way from his home to the lakes, nearly 20 kilometers. Now Sagytjan delivers mail in his settlement by bicycle.
There is no other job, unfortunately. It is even harder for young people. No jobs after college. They try to enter colleges in big cities – at least in Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan. It's considered lucky if they do.

But, they come back. Some of them say they do it due to the 'call of the wild,' or 'hometown' pride, or for the necessity of taking care of their parents. But in reality, they are just ashamed to admit they have nowhere to go. They need a residence registration in order to get a job in the city, and to get the registration they need to find a place to live in the city. But our children are not made welcome anywhere, except in their homes.

45-year old Myrzabek does remember the sea: as a child, he went to see it with his father. His father was holding his hand and pointed to the horizon where a blue stripe of the sea could be seen.
Myrzabek is a principal in one of Muynak's five schools. He is also a deputy from his district and a trade union leader.

There is practically no vegetation in such a climate and with the dead soil we have.

Some time ago, for the 20th anniversary of Independence Day in Uzbekistan, we were given a task to plant 20 trees. It is a noble deed – we do not argue that. But we took it as a mockery here… We did plant them, and the inspectors checked us off. After that, nobody was interested in what happened to these trees. The majority of them died due to lack of irrigation water. They need special care –watering 3-4 times a day. One bucket of water for each tree, how many buckets do we need? Who has the time to bring 20 buckets of water in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening?

We got used to a lot of things. Heat is not the worst among them. The sand issue is much worse, especially in summer. You cannot go outside: you cannot see anything or breathe. The dust storm is such that the dust gets through glasses, scarves, clothes. The streets are deserted; everyone hides at home.

Kazakstan and Uzbekistan have different approaches to fight the ecological consequences of the Aral Sea disaster. The Uzbek party plants trees to prevent salinization and dust spread. The Kazakh party is making efforts to restore the sea itself. The Aral Sea bottom has over 10 billion tons of salt.
Winds blow it over a distance of more than 500 kilometers.
This is how the young saxaul forest in the shrunken bottom
of the Aral Sea looks, in Uzbekistan.
The oil deposits in the seabed are one of the reasons why Uzbekistan is not interested in sea restoration. Uzbekistan's government and a consortium of investors signed a 40-year Production Sharing Agreement in August 2006. The Consortium includes the Russian LUKOIL Overseas Holding, a Malaysian Petronas Carigali Overseas, Korea National Oil Corporation (KNOC), CNPC International from China, and Uzbekneftegaz. Currently, Uzbekneftegaz, LUKOIL Overseas and CNPC remain in the Consortium. They have already invested USD $110.2 million into oil exploration in the Aral Sea. They discovered several deposits. They plan to invest another USD $30 million in the project by the close of 2017.

Kazakhstan also carried out in exploration in the Aral Sea. From 1999 to 2002, Kazakh and Japanese experts held a seismic and gravity surveys via a Japanese Government grant of USD $50 million. The held another survey in 2005-2006, but results showed "hydrocarbon indicators were not detected in the drilled pit."
Yusup Kamalov (Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan).
An expert on the Aral Sea problem speaks about the Aral Sea importance in the region.