Efforts over the past seven years have expanded the surface area of the Aral Sea by 30%. Photo by Mentat Kibernes.
Not too long ago everyone had pretty much written off the Aral Sea as a lost cause. Soviet irrigation policies had diverted water from the Aral for so long that the sea was going to irreversibly dry up. You've probably seen photos of ships stranded in the sand, left high and dry as the waters receded, in An Inconvenient Truth. Though used as a symbol of climate change in that film, that particular connection is tenuous at best. Nonetheless the death of the Aral Sea is true environmental disaster that is entirely manmade.
Now comes word that the Aral is getting a second life. In 2001, the government of Kazakhstan worked together with the World Bank to build a dam across the middle of what remained of the Aral Sea to enable the northern portion to be filled with water from the Syr Darya River.
Dam Built to Divide North Aral Sea From Southern Portion
Construction was completed on the Kok-Aral Dam in 2005 and with it a 13 kilometer long dam separated the smaller North Aral Sea from the larger, saltier and more polluted southern half. The result has been that since the last time water in the North Aral was assessed, in 2003, surface areas has expanded by 30%, from 2,550 square kilometers to 3,300 square kilometers. Water depth has also increased, from 30 meters to 42 meters.
Touting the apparent success of the project, World Bank president Robert Zoellick said, "The return of the North Aral Sea shows that man-made disasters can be at least partly reversed, and that food production depends on the sound management of scarce water resources and the environment."
Fish, Windlife Make Comeback, Local Climate Improves
The effects of the rehabilitation of the Aral can be seen in several areas. At the low point of the Aral, only one fish species remained, now 15 species have been recorded. Former port city of Aralsk, which had seen increasing dust storms and colder winters as the waters receded, is reporting receiving more rain. Fisherman are beginning to restock the sea with commercial fish species in an effort to revive the local economies.
More on the so-called 'Kazakh miracle' at :: ENS.