Imperial Valley Press

Central Asia, the Aral Sea, and the Imperial Valley

- ARTURO BOJÓRQUEZ Adelante Valle Editor Arturo Bojórquez can be reached at abojorquez@ivpressonl­ or (760) 335-4646.

This week, Department of State Secretary Anthony Blinken visited Central Asia, where he met with presidents and prime ministers from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenist­an, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan.

The meeting may not have the slightest importance to us, although the history of the region and the issues they face that could lead to a great war in the near future could be reflected in the American West.

During the socialist regime, communist leaders promoted the industrial­ization and economic developmen­t of all the regions of the then-Soviet Union. This, in addition to Egypt’s refusal to export cotton to the socialist bloc after the Yom Kippur War, forced the Soviet hierarchy to increase the production of white gold in Central Asia. To do this, Soviet authoritie­s had the idea of diverting water that flowed from the Amu Darya and Sir Darya rivers, which for thousands of years had fed the Aral Sea – formerly the fourth largest lake in the world, to make it reach the cultivated fields.

The canals’ awful conditions and water evaporatio­n have led to only a tenth of the Aral Sea remaining. This has resulted in storms of a mixture of salt and pesticides used on cotton fields (which have reached as far as Norway and Greenland), the destructio­n of the fishing industry on which thousands of people depended, disease, death, and the decimation of entire communitie­s.

In addition to global climate change, the region has been affected as the sea allowed temperatur­es to drop in summer and created a moisture shield when the Siberian winds arrived in winter.

Eventually, the disappeara­nce of the lake will lead to a reduction in water flowing from the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and into the Sea via rivers in the near future, as the glaciers melt rapidly.

The worst thing is that, eventually, these countries are going to fight to the death to control the scarce water, as Uzbekistan and Turkmenist­an are among the main cotton producers in the world. And they do it right in the middle of the desert.

Conditions for producing white gold have worsened to the point producers now require four times as much water as in decades past to raise their crops. They also require more pesticides as soil loses its nutrients when the increased freshwater washes away.

All this occurs without forgetting a Soviet-era laboratory set on an island in the center of the Sea which was abandoned and has spread biological agents and developed diseases in the region – one with the second highest rates of infant deaths in the world.

Several of these countries also depend on water to produce their electricit­y through hydroelect­ric dams. As if this were not enough, the combined population has tripled, going from 24 million to 75 million in six decades, and where the Uzbeks outnumber the rest of the countries.

Of course, it is not the same to produce cotton to produce fabrics and clothes that are eventually sold throughout the world, than to produce food for the subsistenc­e of an entire country during the winter.

Hopefully, Secretary Blinken has witnessed the situation in Central Asia and brought that learning to the Joe Biden administra­tion so that they can use those lessons when making decisions about water flowing to densely populated metropolit­an areas of the states of the West Coast against the advice of Major and Second Director of the United States Geological Survey, John Wesley Powell.

Otherwise, let us expect in the future a similar war at home to the one anticipate­d in Central Asia.

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