Our Love and Pain, Aral!
The two-day trip to Karakalpakstan of the environmental journalists from the capital and the local colleagues who joined them in Nukus allowed not only to take part in various events, meet interesting people from the Northern region, but also once again to come into contact with the global ecological tragedy, whose name is the Aral Sea.
The media tour was organized by the Central Asian Regional Environmental Center (CAREC) in the framework of the EU-funded project on awareness and partnership for sustainable water and environmental development in Uzbekistan.
The major component in this trip, according to the organizers, was, of course, the round table dedicated to the prospects of development of Muynak district and water saving technologies. But the employees of CAREC, apparently well aware that the reports in Muynak alone will be a bit «nosy» for journalists, tried to revive them with vivid and lively information about the past and present of the Aral Sea. And it was this that gave all participants in the media tour an unforgettable experience, coming to the fore.
A BIT OF HISTORY AND FACTS
The Aral Sea until 1960 was one of the largest reservoirs in the world with an area of 68.9 thousand square kilometers and a water volume of 1,083 cubic kilometers, its length was 426 km, width constituted 284 km, while the greatest depth reached 68 meters.
The Aral zone was a region with a wide variety of flora and fauna, 38 fish species and a number of rare species inhabited by water, the number of saigas reached 1 million heads, the floristic composition was 638 species of higher plants.
In the past, the Aral Sea was one of the richest fishing grounds in the world: the annual catch of fish in the reservoirs of the Aral Sea was 30-35 thousand tons. More than 80% of the inhabitants of the coast were engaged in the extraction, processing and transportation of fish and fish products. Fertile lands of the delta of the Amudarya and Syrdarya, as well as highly productive pastures provided employment for more than 100 thousand people in the sphere of animal husbandry, poultry farming, growing of agricultural crops.
Also the sea was mitigated by sharp fluctuations in the weather throughout the region, which had a favorable effect on the living conditions of the population, agricultural production and the ecological situation. The air masses invading the region during winter warmed up, and in summer cooled over the water area of the Aral Sea.
The problems arose and took on alarming proportions in the 1960s as a result of thoughtless regulation of the major transboundary rivers of the region - the Syrdarya and the Amudarya, due to which the Aral in the past received about 56 cubic km of water annually. The significant growth of the population living here, the scale of urbanization and intensive development of lands, the construction in the past of large hydrotechnical and irrigation facilities on the watercourses of the basin of this sea, without taking into account the environmental consequences, created the conditions for the drying out of one of the most beautiful reservoirs on the planet. In fact, during the lifetime of one generation, a whole sea was lost, the process of degradation of the environment continues, turning the Aral Sea into a lifeless desert.
Over the past 50 years, the total flow of rivers to the Aral Sea has been reduced to an average of 12.7 cu. km, or almost 4.5 times. The area of the water surface of the sea was reduced 8 times, the volume of the water mass decreased by more than
13 times. The water level, which was before 1960 at the absolute mark of 53.4 m, decreased by 29 m. The level of salinity increased by more than 13-25 times and exceeds by 7-11 times the average level of mineralization of the World Ocean.
On the site of the dried up part of the sea, once a source of rich flora and fauna and a natural climatic regulator of the adjacent territories, a sand and salt «Aralkum» desert with an area of more than 5.5 million hectares, inexorably capturing the region of the Aral Sea, arose. In the zone of permanent environmental risk, negatively affecting the quality of life, health and, most importantly, the gene pool of people, it turned out not only the territories surrounding the sea, but the whole of Central Asia.
Annually more than 75 million tons of dust and poisonous salts are rising from the Aral Sea. Dust trails, lifted from the bottom of the former sea, reach 400 km in length and 40 km in width. According to scientists, Aral dust has already been recorded in the glaciers of the Pamir and Tian Shan mountains, as well as the Arctic.
In the Aral Sea region, a complex set of ecological, climatic, socio-economic and demographic problems emerged, which have far-reaching, menacing global consequences.
Since the early 1960s, in the Aral Sea region, the number of days with temperatures over 40° C has doubled, in places the temperature is 49° C in the shade.
Pollution of water and a large volume of salt and dust removal from the bottom of the dry sea contributed to the growth of a number of diseases among the population of the region, such as anemia, kidney, blood, gastrointestinal, respiratory, cardiovascular, cholelithiasis and other diseases. Children are especially exposed to a particularly negative impact of a dangerous ecological situation. The content of dioxin in the blood of pregnant women and the milk of nursing mothers in Karakalpakstan is five times higher than in Europe.
As a result of the loss of the transport importance of the sea, the decay of fishing, livestock and other types of management, the reduction of pastures and the decline in land productivity, tens of thousands of people lost their traditional sources of livelihood.
In the Aral Sea region, more than half of the gene pool of the plant and animal world has disappeared. 11 species of fishes, 12 species of mammals, 26 species of birds, 11 species of plants were virtually disappeared.
The scarcity of water resources, the decrease in the quality of drinking water, pollution and land degradation, the sharp decline in biodiversity, the deterioration of the health and gene pool of the population, climatic changes as a result of increased turbidity of the atmosphere, and possibly the associated decrease in glacier area in Pamir and Tian Shan mountains, where a significant part of the runoff of the main rivers of the region is formed - all this is only a short list of the results of the Aral Sea tragedy.
WILL THE DEAD SEA RISE AGAIN?
But it's one thing to read about this tragedy in various publications or even in encyclopedias, and it's quite another to see with your own eyes.
When you see an open-air museum called «ship cemetery», the heart involuntarily contracts. Having climbed onto a pile of rusty iron it is somehow difficult to imagine a fishing schooner plowing the most beautiful pond in the world, the joyful cries of sailors after successful fishing, and the happy faces of their relatives waiting for the fishermen on the shore.
After all, a ship in the sand, surrounded by thorny bushes - this is a tragedy, this is nonsense, it should not be. And looking from the former Muynak pier to the desert stretching beyond the horizon, it is very difficult to dream of a sea that took 200 kilometers.
When I flew to Nukus, I talked to my neighbor in an airplane living in Karakalpakstan. To my regret that the Aral was tragically killed, he responded with a rather unexpected statement: yes, he did not perish, this is all temporary, you do not have to bury him permanently, after some time the sea will necessarily revive. Required! And such conviction was in his words, he radiated such optimism that
I did not even want to argue with him, afraid to offend.
Then, at a meeting with the director of the Nukus branch of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS), Rashid Koshekov, where he gave a detailed account of the causes and consequences of the Aral tragedy and the work that is currently underway, I told him about this conversation and asked: what caused this optimism of local residents, what are they ancient legends that are among the population?
To the surprise of Koshekov, the influence of the «legends» was completely rejected, moreover, he himself expressed confidence that «sooner or later, when we may no longer exist, the Aral Sea will reappear in this ancient land!»
Is it a dream? Or a hypothesis that has a scientific basis?
The head of the Nukus branch of IFAS explained that Aral had already disappeared in its history, but then ... reappeared. Why not repeat this scenario? According to the scientist, who paraphrased the famous phrase about the lever, which can turn the earth, if there are financial means, it is quite possible to revive the Aral Sea.
Moreover, in his opinion, the project of the transfer of the northern Russian rivers to the Aral Sea, if it had been implemented at the time, would certainly become salutary for the perishing sea. It is not by chance that the former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov proposed to revive this project today.
Rashid Koshekov told a lot of interesting about IFAS projects implemented in the Aral Sea. For example, the creation of small local water bodies in the Amu Darya delta (worth $ 90 million) or forest plantations in various parts of the extinct sea, complained about the lack of significant financial resources. All these projects are financed only through contributions from Uzbekistan to IFAS. To expand the fund's activities and take largescale, practical measures to mitigate the consequences of the environmental crisis in the Aral Sea region, it is necessary to attract grants from international organizations and donor countries.
Still, the conversation with him somehow set the journalists on a more optimistic mood. After all, we want so much to believe, despite the severe verdict of scientists and ecologists that the Aral Sea will return, will necessarily return ... Even if it's just a dream!
WHAT IS CAREC?
During the round table, which was held in the building of the Muynak hokimiyat, the prospects for the development of this area, including its ecotourism potential, were discussed. And also about the importance of introducing water-saving and other modern technologies to protect the environment.
Saylavbay Daniyarov, hokim of the district, was elected to this post a few months ago. He gives the impression of an energetic and purposeful leader who knows firsthand about existing problems and how to solve them. And he believes that it is necessary to attract the attention of the media and the general public to the unique Muynak district located in the zone of ecological catastrophe.
If now foreign tourists come to Nukus to visit the Savitsky Museum, then in the nearest future, in the opinion of the hokim, they should be massively interested in the «cemetery of ships» in Muynak, and numerous lakes with the possibility of fishing, and many other environmental objects.
Well, the tourist prospects of Muynak district, when the ecological beauties of the northern region will add to the ancient monuments of Khiva for foreign tourists, plus the Savitsky museum and other objects of Nukus, look quite attractive. It's only the implementation of these interesting ideas.
However, even a trip along the main street of Muynak leaves a not very pleasant impression. It seems that this is not a city, but an abandoned mountain village. Even gravel on the road have not yet been laid out, what else to talk about other tourist infrastructure. It affects some kind of unsettled and untidy of this small town, everywhere lying trash.
From an accidental conversation with the locals you will find out that in the city there is literally nowhere to «put your hands on», there is nowhere to spend your free time. Especially it concerns young people. Therefore, many of them leave their native places in search of a better share.
Can a young and energetic hokim break this situation?
Other reports, which sounded at the round table, allowed the participants of the media outlet to learn more about the activities of CAREC. It was started in 2001. Working through the head office in Almaty (Kazakhstan) and the established network of its branches in the capitals of five Central Asian states (including Uzbekistan), CAREC has become a true leader in environmental cooperation in the region. And to date, this regional center represents a unique platform for the development of cooperation between the Central Asian environmental community and international organizations.
For more than 15 years, the organization has implemented over 230 projects totaling 48 million euros. During this period CAREC demonstrated high technical, human and organizational potential on the basis of five thematic programs, such as Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), the Water Initiatives Program (WIP), Climate Change and Sustainable Energy (CCSE), Environmental Management Program (EMP) and a new «Environment and Health» (EH) program.
The CAREC branch in Uzbekistan has signed memorandums of cooperation with organizations such as the Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan, the «Suvchi» NGO, the Tashkent Institute of Agricultural Irrigation and Mechanization. Within the framework of the Memorandum of Cooperation between TIAIM and the Regional Environmental Center of Central Asia, unique in the whole Central Asian region Center of Excellence and Scientific Research will be created in Tashkent.
BY NOT THE ECOLOGY SINGLE ...
During the trip, a magnificent cultural program was organized for its participants. In particular, journalists visited the legendary Savitsky Art Museum, also called the Louvre in the Desert.
Its collection includes over 90 thousand exhibits, including the Russian avant-garde, the fine arts of Uzbekistan, folk-applied art of Karakalpakstan, the art of Ancient Khorezm, supplemented with copies of a number of exhibits of the Parisian Louvre. According to experts and world press, the collection of the State Museum of the Republic of Karakalpakstan named after I.V. Savitsky, is the best artistic collection of the Asian region, has the second in the world in importance and volume collection of works of the Russian avant-garde.
It is noteworthy that during the excursion to the museum his guide dwelled in detail on the paintings devoted to the Aral Sea.
As part of the media tour, journalists also visited the necropolis of Mizdahkan an extensive complex that arose in the 4th century BC. This is one of the most mystical places of Uzbekistan, surrounded by secrets, legends and myths. Necropolis includes the fortress of Gyaur-Kala, several mausoleums, a caravanserai and a cemetery. The total area is more than 200 hectares. There is an opinion that one of the tombs has healing properties - women come here praying to get rid of infertility. Separately it is worth mentioning the mausoleum of ShamunNabi, inside of which there is a huge tomb in 25 meters (one of the largest in the world).
However, excavations have shown that there are no burials here, and its purpose was reduced, most likely, to some kind of cult. The complex is a monument, where the history and culture of Islam and Zoroastrianism intertwined. The Muslim cemetery, located on a vast territory, is still a place of pilgrimage.
Do not leave indifferent and Nukus - it is developing, everywhere you can see new buildings and tower cranes. In general, saying goodbye to Karakalpakstan, I sincerely want to return here again.