Sunday, June 11, 2023

Northern Remnant of Aral Sea Now Struggling to Survive

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 8 – Two decades ago, the World Bank provided funding to allow Kazakhstan to construct a dam isolating the northern segment of the Aral Sea in the hopes of saving it from the sad fate of the rest of that sea to the south. But now, the Northern Aral Sea as it is known is in trouble as well, and Kazakhstan is scrambling to try to save it.

            Its total volume of water and surface area have declined sharply over the last year, and experts expect that to continue. And that has triggered a conflict in that republic between those who argue that Kazakhstan must change its own water use policies, reducing the cultivation of water-intensive crops like rice, and those who want to reach agreement with other Central Asian states to supply more water to the Northern Aral (

            Both options face enormous obstacles: Changing agricultural patterns in Kazakhstan undermines exiting economic and power relations among the regions because it will at least initially increase unemployment and cost regional heads much of their power. But talks with other Central Asian countries are unlikely to be successful.

            On the one hand, even more than on the question of the fate of the Aral Sea as a whole, the fate of the Northern Aral finds them especially divided because that remaining sea benefits Kazakhstan far more than it benefits any of them.  And on the other, all these countries now face serious water shortages of their own.

            Consequently, barring a miracle, the Northern Aral Sea likely will follow the same death spiral that the Aral Sea as a whole has, dashing the hopes of many in the region and more generally and leading to economic, health, and demographic disasters that will only exacerbate existing problems.


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