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Environmental disaster in Uzbekistan

Environmental disaster in Uzbekistan


WHEN WILL MAN BECOME A HUMAN BEING?

The eyes of the world on the environmental disaster in Uzbekistan

The international conference "Cross-border environmental problems in Central Asia: the application of international legal mechanisms for their solution". The event was organized by Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan (to which the Constitution reserves 15 seats in the Legislative Chamber-Oliy Majlis) to analyze ecological problems, examining the various proposals on the management of water resources of transboundary rivers, as well as the environmental risks associated with the construction of hydroelectric plants on the Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya rivers , the cross-border impact of industrial emissions on the environment and on the health of the population. Among 250 participants, 110 delegates from 36 foreign countries. Present were representatives of major international organizations and financial institutions, such as the UN, OSCE, World Bank, World Health Organization, World WildlifeFund, World Conservation Union. During the conference, open from Boriy Alikhanov, president of the Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan, the participants deepened their knowledge of the very serious damage that Uzbeks are suffering due to two great ecological tragedies: the universally known one of the Aral Sea, and that, hitherto unknown, of the Surkhandarya province.

The day before the convention on Ecological Movement of Uzbekistanorganized two visits to the areas affected by environmental pollution for the participants. I was in the group that visited her Surkhandarya province, located on the border with Tajikistan and I had an interesting experience on the scientific level, but impressive on the human one. In the Tajik territory, not far from the Uzbek border, there is the SUE TALCO (State Unitary Enterprise "Tadjik Aluminum Company")state-owned industry for the production of aluminum, the largest in Central Asia. This industry, since 1980, has been emitting large quantities of toxic chemicals into the environment (hydrogen fluoride, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen monoxide, carbon monoxide) that pollute the ecosystem, causing devastating effects on crops, animals and humans.

This, in total violation of the Environmental Cooperation Agreement signed in 1994 by the Governments of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and of the rules of international law on the prohibition of transboundary pollution.

These chemicals, carried by the wind, have also contaminated that part of Uzbek territory near the border. It is an agricultural area Surkhandarya province, organized in small towns, very far from big cities and tourist destinations. Its inhabitants are experiencing a real drama, and I, after this visit, must testify to it. We first visited a land planted with vines, which showed clear signs of chemical contamination. Then a breeding of cows with skeletal deformities of the limbs and decalcification of the teeth. We then went to a doctor's office where infants, children and adults with major osteo-skeletal alterations affecting the upper and lower limbs, spine, rib cage and skull were admitted.

Many others have instead contracted diseases of the neuro-endocrine, cardio-vascular and respiratory systems. And, unfortunately, these cases are on the rise. The photographs I took and documenting the aforementioned pathologies are worth a thousand words. I never imagined seeing people so devastated in body and soul due to pollutants released into the atmosphere by other men.

I will never forget their eyes and the desperate tears of the young Uzbek mothers who showed us visitors their children with deformed bodies. It was a very touching human experience and I admired the great dignity of those desperate women. The whole world has known about the ecological tragedy of the Aral Sea for many years. Thanks to this conference and, above all, this visit, now the world also knows that of Surkhandarya province. What I am writing oral I also declared on Uzbek television during an interview.

“I don't know what Tajikistan wants to do to solve this problem. But I know that developed countries and international organizations can and must now intervene to stop this ecological tragedy. Before it's too late".

Vittorio Giorgi
Civil lawyer of Caserta
Expert in legal and cultural cooperation with Uzbekistan
Contact: [email protected]

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From citrus groves to dams. How the mafia manages water in Sicily [28/04/2010]

In Sicily, however, these not only have the flavor of claiming a fundamental right (present in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an extension of the right to life), but also that of the anti-mafia. Especially after the last few weeks have seen alternating events that are nothing short of singular: from the declaration by the governor of the Sicily Region Raffaele Lombardo, issued at the end of January before the national anti-mafia commission, on the mafia presence in the management of water and waste in Sicily to the sensational investigation underway at the Catania prosecutor's office on Lombardo himself, which came to the fore at the end of March.

The mafia management of water resources is probably one of the oldest privatization experiments. And the mafia is perhaps the first organization to have realized the economic potential of the deal. Results: no ease of access for the population and acquisition of full control of the territory by the managers.

The private management of water has made Sicily the arid and thirsty land it is today, light years away from the luxuriant land of which the chronicles of a not-too-distant past tell. The mafia has always ridden and made its own, often assuming the monopoly, economic activities that had two very specific characteristics: to be the most profitable on the market and to allow greater territorial control. Dilemmas, stereotypes, paradigms, Rubettino, Soveria Mannelli, 1995. "data-toggle =" popover "data-original-title =" Note 3 "> [3].

The privatization of water in Sicily, therefore, did not begin in recent years, but was born together with the mafia. In the province of Palermo there is a particular link with the cultivation of citrus fruits: in the 19th century, irrigation around Palermo was so abundant and efficient that citrus groves gave life to the Conca d'Oro. After the birth of the unitary state, the proceeds from citrus fruit exports on the national and international markets aroused the appetites of mafia families. A water resources control system is developed linked to the “fontanieri”, guardians of the wells paid by users and linked to the mafia. It is not surprising, therefore, that the first mafia crime of which we know is linked precisely to water: in 1874 Felice Marchese, a "fontaniere", was killed in the context of a conflict between rival groups over the competence of some springs. common good of humanity, in 'Alternative / i', n. 2, June 2001, p. 38. "data-toggle =" popover "data-original-title =" Note 4 "> [4].

What has been changing in recent years is the institutionalization of Mafia control over water resources, supported by the aforementioned parliamentary provisions. Support is sought in national companies: the mafia is part of the business and is increasingly linked to politics. The result also fully agrees with the increasingly frequent tendency of the mafia not to start parallel economic activities, not to ask for bribes, but to participate in management profits. A great little revolution in the mafia economy. In this sense, the mafia works alongside the largest multinationals, sometimes in competition and sometimes in collaboration with them [5].

In 1994, the Galli law [6] established that each region should establish Optimal Territorial Areas (ATO) for the organization of the integrated water service. Sicily has implemented the national legislation with almost a decade of delay. Furthermore, the ATOs created in Sicily do not follow the expected criterion, that is, in the first place, the respect of the hydrographic basin unit, but political criteria: one ATO per province. Then we are witnessing anomalous assignment procedures: companies born ad hoc, tenders with a single competitor (generally a grouping of public and private companies). The ATOs are assigned to companies of various kinds, many of which with investments in multinationals (Veolia, Aqualia, etc.), for a turnover of over five and a half billion euros over the next thirty years, of which more than one billion are non-repayable investments of the European Union. Finally, these are very low-risk operations for companies, because the capital invested is mostly public.

But the Disperi dam - in the municipality of Gela, province of Caltanissetta -, with a potential capacity of 23 million liters of water, must stop at two and a half because it has been waiting for thirty years to be tested, and so most of the dams in Sicily. The extreme case is probably the ATO of Palermo: the former municipal company AMAP has obtained a safeguard regime under which it will be able to operate in parallel with the ATO until 2021. The mafia has no interest in solving the water emergency, because one of its main sources of control over the territory would fail. And the municipalities are forced to buy water from private wells. Business and politics are therefore intertwined with the underworld, in a tangle that is almost impossible to untie.

Bibliography

  • Crisantino, A., The importance of lemons in the history of Cosa Nostra
  • Galullo, R., Oddo, G., Water and crime. The Sicily case, in “Il sole 24 ORE”, 30 July 2008
  • Petrella, R., Water, the common good of humanity, in “Alternative / i”, n. 2, June 2001, p. 38
  • Ruta, C., Water: the business of the century in Sicily, a hot deal, originally published in "Narcomafie", n. 1, January 2009
  • Santino, U., The stolen water. From the mafia to multinationals
  • Santino, U., The mafia interpreted. Dilemmas, stereotypes, paradigms, Rubettino, Soveria Mannelli 1995
  • Santino, U., Mafia and globalization, Di Girolamo, Trapani, 2007

1. More information on the referendum questions can be found on the website of the Italian Forum of Water Movements - Referendum Campaign.]]. The aims are to pave the way for republishing and to declare water as a non-commodifiable property, in particular following the approval of the Ronchi Decree in November 2009 [[D.L. n. 135 of 2009 which reforms local public services, forcing administrations to entrust them to private managers.

3. See U. Santino, The mafia interpreted. Dilemmas, stereotypes, paradigms, Rubettino, Soveria Mannelli, 1995.

4. See R. Petrella, Water, the common good of humanity, in "Alternative / i", n. 2, June 2001, p. 38.

5. In recent years, the crosshairs of multinationals in Sicily have also extended to the mineral water business. One example among all: in Sicilian supermarkets you can find “S. Rosalia ”(patron saint of Palermo, who therefore closely links the product to the territory) under the Nestlè brand.

6. Galli Law, 5 January 1994, n. 36. "Provisions on water resources".


The ancient name of the river, Iassarte, comes from the Greek word Ιαξάρτης (Iaxártēs). This, in turn, was derived from ancient Persian Yakhsha Arta, which can be roughly translated as "The Beautiful Abundance". In medieval Islamic scriptures the river was known by the Arabs by the name Sayḥūn in Arabic: سيحون), which is the name of one of the four rivers of paradise.
The twin river of the Syr Darya, the Amu Darya, was then called Jayḥūn (Arabic: جيحون), derived from Gihon. From these two Arabic names derive the Turkish names of the two rivers, respectively Sayḥūn is Ceyhun. The current name of the river is relatively recent. In the states it crosses, the river is named in the following ways: in Uzbek Sirdarjo in Kazakh Сырдарья, Sirdarja in Tajik Сирдарё, Sirdarjo. In Russian it is called Сырдарья, Sirdarja.

The river is formed by the confluence of the Naryn and Karadar'ia, two rivers both originating from Kyrgyzstan. This "river wedding" takes place in Uzbekistan, in the Fergana valley, enclosed between the Tien Shan and Alai mountain ranges. From there, the Syr Darya continues west through the valley, passing the border with Tajikistan at the entrance to the Kairakkum basin. A little further downstream from the reservoir, the river returns again to Uzbekistan, where it reaches the Turanian lowland and turns north to cross the border with Kazakhstan.

The Syr Darya crosses Kazakhstan north-west, forming the northern edge of the Kyzylkum desert. In winter, the lower course of the Syr Darya tends to overflow, so a part of the surplus water is diverted through the Shardara basin, into Aydar, an artificial lake created in Uzbekistan, where it can be dissipated. The river, considerably reduced in flow by the heavy withdrawal of water for irrigation purposes, finally flows into the Little Aral. Together with the Naryn (its right spring branch) it is 3 019 km long. Consequently, its catchment area, including all its tributaries, is 782 669 km². In the past, the Syr Darya formed an internal delta near its mouth.

The quality of the waters of Syr Darya is characterized by the strong contribution of salts due to the return of irrigation waters. The salinity of the river in the densely populated Fergana valley rises from 300-600 mg / l in the upper part up to 3 g / l at the exit of the valley and is characterized by the presence of magnesium sulphate, calcium bicarbonate, chloride sodium and calcium sulfate. The use of the river as a source of drinking water is no longer possible due to the high pollution rates of its waters in the middle and lower reaches [3].

In Tajikistan, the uranium content in river waters increased, in which values ​​between 12 and 43 µg / l were recorded, in which case the 30 µg / l allowed by the WHO guidelines for water were partially exceeded. drinking. However, almost all the uranium found in Tajik waters does not come from this country, but from the upstream areas of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan [4].

An extensive system of irrigation canals, including some built in the 18th century by the Kokand khans, deprives the river of its waters. The massive expansion of this canal system during the Soviet era, when cotton production in Central Asia was pushed to the limit and numerous reservoirs had to be built, caused a real environmental catastrophe in the region. Except in particularly rainy years, the river today often dries up long before it reaches the northern part of what was once the Aral Sea. The current lake is only a meager remnant of what it was in the past and has split into two parts due to drying out. Between 1980 and 1988 the lower course of the Syr Darya, which previously flowed into the Aral Sea, even dried up completely. With millions of people now living in this region thanks to the cultivation of cotton and the governments of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan disagreeing among themselves on what to do, it is not clear how this problem will be addressed.

The course of the Syr Darya is interrupted by numerous dams built for irrigation purposes and for the production of energy.The largest of the artificial lakes along its course is the aforementioned Kairakkum basin (also called Kajrakkum or Kayrakum), which covers a total area of ​​520 km² and has a storage volume of 4.16 billion cubic meters.


Black tides: the 10 worst oil disasters in history

The environmental disaster caused by the explosion and sinking of the oil platform Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, at the end of last April, is just the latest in a long series of episodes that, starring the Petroleum, they have held the world with bated breath and threatened or shocked whole ecosystems. We recall below i 10 most serious accidents in terms of the amount of crude oil dispersed into the environment, bearing in mind, however, that, in cases like these, it is always very difficult to make precise estimates.

1. Gulf War, Persian Gulf, 1991

On January 21, 1991, during the first Gulf War, one occurs very serious oil spill in the Persian Gulf: It will soon be discovered that the Iraqi army has deliberately opened the valves of the oil pipelines in Kuwait, in order to prevent or, at least, to hinder the landing of American soldiers. There oil slick hits the shores of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia is Iran, causing severe damage to the ecosystems of those regions. According to estimates by analysts and researchers, the amount of oil dispersed into the environment on this occasion would be stable between 1,360,000 and 1,500,000 tons.

The spill of crude is also accompanied by a second ecological disaster: the fire of 732 oil wells, again by the Iraqi army, to make the smoke more difficult for the air operations of the military forces of the Coalition.

2. Ixtoc I, Campeche Bay, Gulf of Mexico, 1979-1980

On June 3, 1979 the Mexican oil platform Ixtoc I is engaged in some exploration operations in the Gulf of Mexico, 600 miles off the Texas coast. Due to an error in the maneuvers, the platform catches fire and begins to disperse oil in the sea: the leak, which goes on for a long time. 9 months, until March 23, 1980, is attested between 454,000 and 480,000 tons.

3. Nowruz, Persian Gulf, 1983


4. Atlantic Empress - Aegean Captain, Trinidad and Tobago, 1979

On July 19, 1979, during a tropical storm, the Greek tanker Atlantic Empress collides with the Aegean Captain off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago. Both boats suffer very serious damage, releasing well into the sea 287,000 tons of oil.

5. Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan, 1992

A less known environmental disaster but of enormous proportions is the accident that on 2 March 1992 leads to dispersion of approximately 285,000 tons of crude oil in Fergana valley, in Uzbekistan. The Fergana valley is a region with a predominantly agricultural economy, but rich in oil and oil fields gas, so much so that it has been subjected to drilling for extraction purposes since the early twentieth century. It is in the course of this ordinary mining that the loss occurs, probably due to a breakdown.

6. ABT Summer, Angola, 1991

In May 1991 there is a violent explosion aboard the Liberian tanker Abt Summer, sailing off the coast of Angola. The blast also kills some crew members and causes a terrible fire: the boat burns for three days before sinking and disperses in the Atlantic Ocean about 260,000 tons of oil.

7. Castillo de Beliver, Saldanha Bay, South Africa, 1983

On 6 August 1983 the Spanish tanker Castillo de Beliver catches fire while sailing off South Africa. The fire is followed by one very violent explosion, which causes the boat to sink. The accident causes him spill into the sea of ​​approx 227 thousand tons of crude oil.

8. Amoco Cadiz Brittany, France, 1978


On March 16, 1978 theAmoco Cadiz, a 330-meter Liberian supertanker belonging to the American company Amoco, runs aground off the Breton coast, facing the coast of the small village of Portsall. The accident causes the dispersion in the sea of ​​approx 223,000 tons of crude oil and hits about 150 km of coastline, with considerable damage to local ecosystems and in particular to marine fauna.

9. Amoco Haven, Genoa, Italy, 1991

In April 1991 the Cypriot tanker Amoco Milford Haven, also known as M / C Haven, sinks into the Gulf of Genoa, probably due to aexplosion occurred during a routine procedure. The accident causes the death of some crew members and it spill into the sea of ​​about 144,000 tons of crude oil. Today, the wreck of the M / C Haven lies about 80 meters deep in the waters in front of the Municipality of Arenzano and represents the largest wreck that can be visited in the whole Mediterranean sea.

10. Odyssey, Nova Scotia, Canada, 1988

In November 1988 on the American drilling platform Odysseya violent explosion occurs off the east coast of Canada. The accident causes him spill into the sea of ​​approx 132,000 tons of oil.

The 10 episodes we have mentioned have all had very serious repercussions on the surrounding environment, and in particular on the atmosphere and marine fauna. Just like the infamous oil tanker Exxon Valdez, who in March 1989 ran aground in the waters of Prince William Strait, in Alaska, dispersing in the sea about 38,000 tons of crude oil.

The incident of Exxon Valdez it is the most serious to have hit the US territory, at least until the recent disaster of the Deepwater Horizon: it is estimated that, on that occasion, the oil spill caused the deaths of more than 250,000 seabirds, of 2,000 otters, of 300 seals and of 22 killer whales, as well as of millions of fish. A massacre that is really in danger of repeating itself.

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Index

  • 1 Geography
    • 1.1 Training
    • 1.2 Ancient water level fluctuations
  • 2 History
    • 2.1 First human uses and navigation
    • 2.2 Irrigation canals and environmental disaster
  • 3 Description
    • 3.1 Consequences on public health, economy and environment
    • 3.2 The abandoned military base
    • 3.3 Attempts to recover
    • 3.4 Evolution observed by the satellite
  • 4 Notes
  • 5 Related items
    • 5.1 Other lakes in the process of drying up due to irrigation works
  • 6 Other projects
  • 7 External links

Education Edit

The Aral Sea, as well as the Caspian and Black Seas, is what remains of the ancient Paratethys which, by retreating, generated the three basins. It lost its outlet to the sea about 5.5 million years ago [2] due to tectonic uplift of the Elburz and Caucasus combined with lowering of the sea level. Witness the numerous fossil shells scattered throughout the Karakum desert, which lies to the south. [3] It was considered plausible that the Amu Darya did not flow into the depression that now houses the Aral Sea before the start of the Holocene but instead flowed into the Caspian Sea via the Uzboy Canal. [4] On the other hand, it is ascertained that in ancient times it had an emissary that carried all its waters to the Caspian Sea and that served as a navigable route connected to the "silk road". [5] [6] The Syr Darya formed a large lake in the Kizilkum Desert during the Pliocene now known as the Mynbulak Depression. [7]

Ancient water level fluctuations Edit

The lake has always shown important variations in its level in historical times, but with periods completely incompatible with those of the Brückner cycle, namely 35 years. It should be remembered that in historical times the lake disappeared and reappeared at least once [8] in 1417 the Persian historian Hafiz Abru reports that the Aral had almost completely disappeared and then gradually returned to its initial state in 1570. A subsequent documented period of the lowering of the level was in 1824 when it decreased to the level of 49.1 m [9] the level then gradually rose up to 1843 (51.1 m) and then decreased again, with some slight fluctuations, until the year 1880 ( 49.35 m) from that moment until 1912 a rise in the surface up to 53.35 m was observed, despite the fact that the diversion works of the two tributaries had already begun, albeit on a small scale. Subsequently until 1964 the level remained fairly stable, with slight fluctuations between 52.5 and 53.5 m. [10]

The lake basin is crossed by the 45th parallel, the equidistant line between the North Pole and the Equator.

First human uses and navigation Edit

The first widely documented human presence is the Russian military one which began in 1847, when the city of Raimsk was founded, which was soon renamed Aralsk, near the mouth of the Syr Darya. Shortly thereafter, the Russian Imperial Navy began to deploy its fleet on the surface of the lake. Since the lake basin was not connected to other bodies of water, the ships had to be disassembled in Orenburg on the Ural River, transported by land to Aralsk (presumably pulled by a camel caravan), and then reassembled. The first two boats were named two-masted schooners Nikolai is Mikhail. The first was a warship, the second was a merchant ship intended to establish fishing grounds on the lake. In 1848 these two vessels explored the northern part of the lake. In the same year, a larger warship was assembled, the Constantine, commanded by Lieutenant Alexey Butakov who completed the exploration of the entire basin in the following two years. [11] Ukrainian poet and painter Taras Shevchenko participated in the expedition during his exile, painting a series of sketches on the shores of the Aral Sea. [12]

For the year 1851 two newly built steamers arrived from Sweden, again by caravan. Since the geological investigations had not found coal deposits in the area, the military governor-general of Orenburg Vasily Alekseevich Perovsky ordered to carry out, for the consumption of the two steamers, "the most abundant possible supply of saxaul"a desert shrub, similar to Larrea tridentata. Unfortunately the plant did not prove to be a very suitable fuel, and in subsequent years the Aral flotilla was supplied, at high cost, with coal from the Donetsk coalfield. [11]

In recent times, the remains of an ancient city have reappeared on the dried-up lake bed [13].

Irrigation canals and the environmental disaster Edit

In the early sixties the Soviet Union government decided to draw water from the two rivers that flowed into the lake through the use of canals in an attempt to irrigate the desert to grow rice, melons, cereals, and irrigate large babies cotton fields of the surrounding areas. [14] This was part of the Soviet regime's intensive cultivation plan for cotton, which was intended to make Russia a major exporter. [15]

The construction of the irrigation canals began on a large scale in the 1940s. Most of them were built in a hasty way, allowing the water to filter or evaporate. The Karakum Canal, the widest in Central Asia, is estimated to have wasted 30% to 75% of the water that passed through it. [16]

Of the 47,750 km of irrigation canals leading to farms, only 28% are waterproofed. Solo il 77% delle opere di presa dei canali dei consorzi agricoli è dotato di misuratori di portata, mentre dei 268.500 km di canali interni alle fattorie solo il 21% è rivestito di materiale contro l'infiltrazione, che mantiene il 15% di acqua in più rispetto a quelli non rivestiti. [17]

Sin dal 1950 si poterono osservare i primi vistosi abbassamenti del livello delle acque del lago. Già nel 1952 alcuni rami della grande foce a delta dell'Amu Darya non avevano più abbastanza acqua per poter sfociare nel lago. Nel 1960 una quantità d'acqua stimabile tra i 20 ed i 60 km³ veniva deviata nell'entroterra. Dal 1961 al 1970 il livello del lago scese ad una media di 20 cm all'anno, e negli anni settanta la media triplicò arrivando a 50–60 cm all'anno, mentre negli anni ottanta la media era compresa fra gli 80 e i 90 cm annui. Il tasso di utilizzo d'acqua per scopi irrigui continuò a crescere: l'acqua deviata dai fiumi duplicò tra il 1960 e il 2000, così come la produzione di cotone.

La progressiva scomparsa del lago non sorprese i sovietici, che avevano previsto l'evento all'inizio dei lavori e ritenevano che l'Aral, una volta ridotto ad una grande palude acquitrinosa, sarebbe stato facilmente utilizzabile per la coltivazione del riso. Già nel 1964 Aleksandr Asarin dell'istituto 'Hydroproject' evidenziava il fatto che il lago era condannato, spiegando che "ciò fa parte dei piani quinquennali approvati dal Consiglio dei ministri e dal Politburo. Nessun appartenente a un livello inferiore avrebbe osato contraddire questi piani, anche se così il destino del lago fu segnato". [18]

L'opinione pubblica si divise in più correnti. Il piano di sfruttamento delle acque dei fiumi a scopo agricolo aveva come responsabile Grigory Voropaev che, durante una conferenza sui lavori dichiarò, a chi osservava che le conseguenze per il lago sarebbero state nefaste, che il suo scopo era proprio quello di "far morire serenamente il lago d'Aral". Era infatti così abbondante la necessità di acqua che i pianificatori arrivarono a dichiarare che l'enorme lago era ritenuto uno spreco di risorse idriche utili all'agricoltura e, testualmente, "un errore della natura" che andava corretto. Un ingegnere sovietico ha dichiarato, nel 1968, "è evidente a tutti che l'evaporazione del lago d'Aral è inevitabile". [19] D'altra parte negli anni sessanta è stato proposto un progetto su larga scala per reindirizzare una parte del flusso del fiume Ob e dei suoi affluenti verso l'Asia centrale attraverso un gigantesco sistema di canali. Uno dei principali obiettivi del progetto era rifornire d'acqua il lago d'Aral. Tuttavia, a causa dei costi impressionanti e della contrarietà dell'opinione pubblica russa, le autorità federali abbandonarono il progetto nel 1986. [20]

Dal 1960 al 1998 la superficie del lago si era ridotta di circa il 60% ed il suo volume dell'80%. Nel 1960 il lago d'Aral era il quarto lago più grande del mondo con una superficie di 68.000 km 2 e un volume di 1.100 km 3 , mentre dal 1998 la superficie si è ridotta a 28.687 km², scivolando all'ottava posizione. Nello stesso periodo la salinità è aumentata da 10 a 45 g/l. Dal 1987 il lago si è diviso in due laghi distinti, quello nord e quello sud, a causa del continuo ritiro delle acque. Nel 1991 l'Uzbekistan acquisì l'indipendenza dall'Unione Sovietica. L'ambasciatore inglese Craig Murray descrisse l'indipendenza come un modo per Islam Karimov di consolidare il suo potere piuttosto che dedicarsi all'allontanamento da un'economia di stampo sovietico centrata sullo sfruttamento delle terre. Murray attribuisce alla politica sul cotone di Karimov la causa del prosciugamento del lago negli anni novanta. Il governo mantenne il massiccio sistema di irrigazione che Murray descrisse come altamente inefficiente. La rotazione delle colture non era utilizzata e il suolo impoverito richiedeva enormi quantità di fertilizzanti. Il deflusso dell'acqua dai campi portò queste sostanze chimiche nel lago in contrazione, creando un grave inquinamento e problemi di salute. [21]

Nell'estate del 2003 il lago d'Aral a sud stava scomparendo prima del previsto. Nelle parti più profonde del lago l'acqua in fondo era più salata di quella in superficie e non avveniva il rimescolamento: in questo modo in estate veniva riscaldata solo la parte superiore del mare, che evaporava più rapidamente di quanto previsto. Nel 2003, l'Aral Sud si suddivise ulteriormente in due bacini: uno orientale e uno occidentale.

Nel 2004 la superficie del lago d'Aral era di soli 17.160 km², il 25% della sua estensione originale, mentre la salinità era aumentata di quasi cinque volte uccidendo la maggior parte della flora e fauna. Nel 2007, la superficie del lago si era ulteriormente ridotta fino al 10% della sua dimensione originale e la salinità di ciò che restava dell'Aral Sud era aumentata a livelli superiori a 100 g/l (per un confronto, la salinità ordinaria dell'acqua marina è di circa 35 g/l, mentre nel Mar Morto la salinità varia tra 300 e 350 g/l). Il ritiro dell'Aral Nord è stato parzialmente invertito grazie alla costruzione di una diga, ma i resti dell'Aral Sud continuano a scomparire e la sua contrazione drastica ha creato l'Aralkum, un deserto che si estende sull'ex letto del lago.

L'afflusso di acque sotterranee nel lago d'Aral Sud, che provengono da una falda che ha origine dalle montagne del Pamir e del Tian Shan e che si fa strada attraverso gli strati geologici di una zona di frattura sul fondo del lago, [22] non è sufficiente per fermare l'essiccazione. Anche se questo afflusso, di circa 4 km³ all'anno, è maggiore di quanto precedentemente stimato, se non saranno cambiate le pratiche di irrigazione non sarà possibile invertire la tendenza attuale. [23] Nel 2014 il bacino orientale era totalmente prosciugato.

Il nome deriva dal chirghiso "Aral Denghiz", che significa "mare delle isole", a causa delle numerose isole che erano presenti nei pressi della costa orientale. Possiede due immissari (Amu Darya e Syr Darya), ma non ha emissari che lo colleghino all'oceano risultando dunque un bacino endoreico.

Il lago d'Aral è vittima di uno dei più gravi disastri ambientali provocati dall'uomo [24] . Originariamente, infatti, il lago era ampio all'incirca 68.000 km², ma dal 1960 il volume e la sua superficie sono diminuiti: nel 2007 il lago era ridotto al 10% della dimensione originaria [25] . A causa della sua posizione geografica (si trova al centro dell'arido bassopiano turanico) è soggetto a una forte evaporazione che non è più compensata dalle acque degli immissari, sfruttate dai consorzi agricoli.

La prospera industria della pesca basata sul lago è stata dismessa, provocando disoccupazione e difficoltà economiche. Al giorno d'oggi la regione è fortemente inquinata, con gravi ripercussioni sulla salute pubblica. Il ritiro del lago ha causato anche il cambiamento del clima locale (microclima), con estati diventate più calde e secche mentre gli inverni sono diventati più freddi e più lunghi. [26]


Le conseguenze sulla popolazione locale

Sebbene il cotone sia diventato la principale risorsa economica nazionale dell’Uzbekistan, con percentuali di cotone prodotto ed esportato tra le più alte al mondo, tanto da essere considerato come un vero e proprio oro bianco del Paese, il dazio da pagare è altissimo.

Oltre ai danni di tipo ambientale, gli effetti negativi di questa economia si sono ripercossi anche sulla popolazione.

Un effetto collaterale è l’elevato tasso di lavoro minorile impiegato nelle piantagioni: secondo le stime delle organizzazioni umanitarie sono migliaia i bambini che a partire dai 7 anni lasciano la scuola per lavorare nelle piantagioni a salari irrisori.

Un altro esempio di quanto i danni ambientali hanno influito sulla vita della popolazione locale è rappresentato dalla vicina cittadina di Moynaq, un tempo uno dei centri costieri più attivi. Oggi le rive del lago di sono allontanate di circa 50 km dalla città e gli abitanti hanno perso, con il lago, non solo la fonte della loro sussistenza economica, ma hanno acquisito anche una forte eredità in termini di malattie: a causa dell’inquinamento dell’aria, malattie come tubercolosi, cancro alla gola ed epatiti colpiscono la popolazione dell’area almeno tre volte in più della media del Paese.

Secondo gli ambientalisti, data la situazione esistente, l’unica soluzione percorribile e da adottare al più presto è l’umidificazione dell’area, così da preservare, per quanto possibile, almeno la salute della popolazione locale.


Video: The Shrinking Aral Sea - Uzbekistan