Aral Sea Region

Kyzylorda Oblast, Kazakhstan


Environment: The Aral Sea was once the fourth biggest inland sea in the world. With abundant fish resources, and a busy shipping trade between its northern port of Aralsk and the river ports of the Amu-Darja, some as far distant as Tajikistan, the Sea provided a healthy livelihood for several hundred thousand people. The Aral Sea surface was 66,100 square kilometers with an average depth of 16,1 meters and a maximum depth of 68 meters. Salt content was 1%. Then in the sixties, the flow of water into the Sea began to drop alarmingly. Upstream irrigation schemes, for the growing of rice and cotton, consumed like a sponge more than ninety per cent of the natural flow of water from the Tian Shan mountains. As a result the Sea's surface area declined. 27,000 square kilometers of former sea bottom became dry surface. About 60% of water volume was lost. The sea level declined 14 meters. Salt concentration doubled. Today, an estimated 200,000 tones of salt and sand are being carried away by wind and discharged within a radius of 300 km every day. Because of the dying out of the sea as well as the usage of large areas for military and space centers, important climatic changes have taken place. During the last ten years these changes have become especially visible. The salt polluted air is carried away by the wind from the now dried-up salt lakes and former sea bottom. The Aral Sea Region in Kazakhtsani part includes two rayons, or sub-regions: Kazalinsk rayon and Aralsk rayon. These rayons are two of 8 rayons of the Kyzylorad oblast.

Desertification: The discharge of salt is also decreasing the agriculturally useable area, destroying pastures and creating a consequent shortage of forage for domestic animals. Deserted and sandy areas are being extended by the impact of wind. Further desertification is taking place, increasing the dust and toxicity content in the air from wind blowing over further exposed seabed.

Agriculture: The Aral Sea region is an agricultural area. The climate is strongly continental and the landscape is a typical semi-desert. Annual precipitation is about 200 mm. In the northern part of the region agriculture is impossible with this amount of rainfall. Only in the South, closely to the Syr-Darja River, agriculture is possible. Thus, people in the North rely completely on raising animals. On average about 25,000 to 30,000 sheep are kept in and around each village, about 2,000 to 4,000 angora-goats, 2,000 to 3,000 horses, 2,000 to 3,000 cattle and 2,000 camels. The processing of agricultural products is still very underdeveloped and consequently hides, wool, meat and milk are being sold as raw products. Businessmen from different regions, knowing the desperate situation of the people, exploit them rigorously. Numbers of domestic animals has become so low that the government has issued a decree to reduce the slaughter.

Industry: The fishing industry has ceased. Other enterprises have closed down completely or work half days only. Well-equipped tailoring factories, shoe-factories, electromechanical enterprises, etc. are out of use. All these issues are destroying the traditional social life of the region. Migration of the workforce is taking place. In the Aralsk rayon, for example, the population has declined from 82,900 to 72,500 people within the past ten years. This has especially affected the male population as they make their transition from large factory jobs to small trade or production.

Water Supply: In earliest times the water supply, sanitation and wastewater management was designed, managed and monitored according to Soviet regulations. In general, the technological and epidemiological knowledge was good, though there was no comprehensive approach to management, economics and finance. As a consequence, the water supply and sanitation systems were not maintained well and are now of low quality, with poor service and economic ineffectiveness. Due to the lack of fresh drinking water supply, people in most of the settlements drink water directly from the Syr-Darja River or canals. In Aralsk rayon and Kazalinsk rayon, the Syr-Darja River and irrigation canals have become the first sources of drinking water due to the costs of pumping water from distant wells. Drinking water quality has been declining over recent years, the main concerns being increased salinity, bacteriological contamination and presence, pesticides and heavy metals often exceeding the drinking water quality standards. Due to financial constraints, the monitoring capacity has also been declining and availability of water treatment chemicals is non-consistent of used in insufficient amounts to prolong use. As for potable water sources the remote villages were using water from the ASWP and groundwater tables as well. Most villages can't receive water from the ASWP because of extensive leakage The communities habitants have to take water from Syr-Daria river or irrigation channels where water is polluted. The another source is highly saline ground water. In all cases the supply of potable water is either insufficient (tankers delivery), not potable because of salinity or polluted chemically and bacteriological (Syr-Darya river, irrigation channels). It's known that the ASWP should provide the safe water to the remote villages but this action will take time. Meanwhile more then 74 852 Persons in the remote settlements in both rayon's need safe & fresh potable water nowadays. A sewerage system exists in Kyzylorda only, serving about 50% of city population. The rest of the urban centers and all of the rural population, including schools, health polyclinics and administration buildings, use simple pit latrines with a wooden structure. Most of these facilities are in a very poor state of maintenance and are unhygienic. The city of Kyzylorda, like many towns upstream, dump sewage almost untreated back into the Syr-Darja, making a larger impact on the Aral Sea region.

Health: The drying-up of the Sea, and the salt and dust laden air, have had a damaging effect on the health of the people, and the animal and plant life as well. The introduction of pesticides into the rice and cotton fields, and the seepage of the residues back into the rivers, has heavily contaminated the water for those communities living along the banks of the rivers flowing into the Sea. This has further aggravated people's health. Diseases like anemia, cancer and tuberculosis, and allergies are frequent. Many children are born with defects. Also in the years since the first project was implemented, there has been a continued increase in Typhoid fever, viral hepatitis, TB, and throat cancer in many areas as high as three times the national average. All of these complaints can be attributed either to the reduction in quality and quantity of water resulting from the drying up of the Aral Sea of the spread of toxic dusts and deterioration of the regional climate resulting from the Aral Sea disaster.

Employment: In this same period, people have seen their jobs disappear too. The fishing industry, shipping, and all related activities have collapsed. The agricultural sector has suffered heavily as the rising concentration of salt in the soil causes reductions in the crop and crop-quality yields. Also, economic changes and the shift from a command to market based economy have also taken their toll on crop quality, equipment, distribution, and agro-production. The highest level of unemployment in Kazakhstan is in the Aral Sea region, official figures amounting to 17,5%. Women are especially affected. Approximately 50% of them are unemployed. In many families, men migrate to other regions to find work and women stay behind living live alone with their children. Among the youth, the unemployment rate is also very high. The present lack of employment opportunities in the region is the biggest constraint to any advancement of the local people's well being. The Aral Sea disaster and the changes in the economy can be both linked to the high unemployment. The Aral Sea disaster destroyed the vital fishing and paper industries of the Aral Seashore area and the political and economic shifts since the fall of the Soviet Union has left many factories standing idle. Most citizens find themselves trying to support their families through small trade or basic agriculture.

Population: Yet the people of the Aral want to stay and not to leave their territory. They are determined to rehabilitate their way of life even if the Sea may never return to its earlier level, and the children can no longer dive off the dock in the port of Aralsk. The people aim to rehabilitate themselves, to keep their homes, and give their children a future - in the Aral region. This project is designed to help them to succeed. Due to the 1999 census the population of Kazalinsk Rayon is 73 200 Persons, the population of Aralsk Rayon is 73 200 Persons. The population of the remote villages in Aralsk rayon is 42 952 persons, or 58 % of total population. The population of the remote villages in Kazalinsk rayon is 31 900 persons, or 44 %. Majority of population are living in 15 larger villages in each rayon. Mostly the remote villages are located at the distance of 50 and up 200 km from the rayon center on poor roads.

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