Defining the Geopolitics of a Thirsty WorldSM
The Aral’s Agony: Hydrocarbons (yes); Water Restoration (a drop in the bucket)

A recent report at Energy Daily on the race to exploit Central Asia’s last significant body of water – the Aral Sea – from a hydrocarbon perspective reminded us that the Aral basin is perhaps the planet’s most damaged freshwater resource, a brutal legacy of decades of Soviet centralized planning. Thus, while the Aral’s waters are divided solely between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, many nations around the world will be closely watching what happens in the development of hydrocarbons in the area.  As the article notes:

“…Beginning in the 1930s Moscow began to divert the waters of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, Central Asia’s most important rivers, arising in Tajikistan’s and Kyrgyzstan’s Pamir and Tien Shan mountain ranges, to irrigate downriver Uzbekistan’s and Kazakhstan’s vast cotton fields. Soviet inefficiency combined with Moscow’s lack of local awareness produced by the 1980s a situation where nearly 90 percent of Central Asia’s water was diverted to agriculture, primarily cotton production, with the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya rivers supplying nearly 75 percent of the region’s irrigation.

The Aral Sea deprived of sources began a disastrous shrinkage, an environmental catastrophe that has yet to be reversed. In 1967 the Aral Sea was the world’s fourth-largest freshwater lake, but in the last 40 years it has shrunk by a startling 15,441 square miles, ruining the local community’s health and livelihood. Moscow’s response — a project to divert a northern-flowing Siberian river to replenish the sea. Since achieving independence in 1991, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have attempted to cope with the problem, but a lack of funding combined with a need for the revenue generated by cotton cultivation have precluded the development of a comprehensive solution.

Uzbekistan has sought foreign aid to cope with the disastrous legacies of Soviet planning. Two years ago it signed an agreement with France to provide potable water to Qoraqalpogiston state, which borders the Aral’s southern shore. Under the $11 million project, funds would be allocated to improve irrigation systems and provide people in the Aral Sea region with drinking water.

….The West has belatedly begun to respond to the Aral’s agony; in April 2006 the World Bank funded a project aimed at the restoration of the northern Aral by means of the Kok-Aral dam constructed in the Kazakh portion of the Aral Sea. Unfortunately, for the larger issues at stake, such well-intentioned efforts remain the proverbial drop in the bucket.

The restoration of the Aral Sea is far too large a project for either Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan to accomplish alone. If the environmentally friendly advertisements flooding Western television from the oil companies are to have any reality, then they could do much worse than to help Almaty and Tashkent restore the Aral Sea even as they develop Central Asia’s last maritime frontier.”

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 1st, 2008 at 3:57 pm and is filed under Aral Basin, Kazakhstan, Russia, Uzbekistan.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. 

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