World's 4th Largest Lake Is Now 90% Dried Up (Pics & Video)

Rusted abandoned ship sitting in the sand in the former Aral Sea

Yerbolat Shadrakhov / Getty Images

Not so long ago, the Aral Sea was the 4th largest freshwater lake in the world. Now, it's only 10% of its former size. In what the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is calling one of the most shocking disasters on the planet, the Aral Sea has literally all but dried up. So how does one of the most massive bodies of water in the world vanish?A giant, Cold War-era Soviet project comes to town, that's how. A project intended to boost cotton production in an arid region of Uzbekistan diverted the rivers that feed the Aral Sea away from their natural source. Without the rivers feeding into the lake, it has simply and steadily dried up over the years. And now, 90% of the entire Aral Sea is gone.

Abandoned Ships and Boats

Rusted ships sitting in the sand in the Aral Sea
Kelly Cheng Travel Photography / Getty Images

It evidently left a huge fleet of ships and boats--the Aral Sea was once home to a thriving fishing economy. Ban Ki-moon discussed the sea during his ongoing visit to the region: "On the pier, I wasn't seeing anything, I could see only a graveyard of ships. It is clearly one of the worst disasters, environmental disasters of the world. I was so shocked," he said, according the Huffington Post.

The Aral Sea catastrophe is one of Ban's top concerns on his six-day trip through the region and he is calling on the countries' leaders to set aside rivalries to cooperate on repairing some of the damage. However, cooperation is hampered by disagreements over who has rights to scarce water and how it should be used.

Politics Are Hurting the Lake's Chances

International disputes between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan over hydro-power and damming rights have thus far impeded progress on returning water to the dying lake.

To get an idea of the awesome scope of this problem, check out this stunning video:

It's ever more pressing that a solution be found, too--water is only becoming more scarce as global warming persists, and thirsty populations grow in size. Which makes the issue of saving the Aral lake not merely one of environmental import, or historic posterity--but an absolute necessity to the local populations who need fresh water to survive.