The President of the former Soviet republic situated in Central Asia, Saparmurat Niyazov, announced that the lake, having a surface area of 3,460 sq km (1,336 sq miles), would be ready in 10 years time, according to Turkmen and international reports. The lake, which would be situated in the Karakum desert, is expected to create some 4,000 sq km (1,545 sq mile) of farmland capable of growing 450,000 tonnes of cotton and 300,000 tonnes of grain a year, said the President.

“We are doing this to make sure the next generation will not experience any water problems,” Niyazov said at a ceremony on 20 October announcing the start of the project, named Turkmen Lake, fifty kilometres north of the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat. The first stage of the construction of the lake, which will be situated in a natural system of saline-bottomed depressions, is planned for 2004. The overall cost of the project will be $US 5.5-6 billion, the president reportedly said.

Up to 50,000 people will be involved in the lake’s construction, involving laying dozens of kilometres of pipes, extensive soil removal, and laying “hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of monolithic and pre-cast reinforced concrete constructions”. The Karakum already has a 1,100km (687 miles) long canal running through it, built in 1962, for irrigation purposes.

The President has rejected the fears of some scientists that the project would harm the environment, saying it would only have ecological benefits. The lake is the latest in a series of extravagant projects by Niyazov, who built a huge arch towering over the capital topped by a 12-metre, gold-plated statue of himself.

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