Aral Sea ‘making good recovery’

The Aral Sea is recovering faster than expected as the dam built in 2005 continues to bring the desired effects, according to the World Bank, which funded the Kok-Aral dam project.

The central-Asian sea shrank dramatically after Soviet planners diverted the water that fed it to irrigate fields in the 1960s, causing its waters to recede and stranding seaside fishing villages in the middle of a salty desert. As the water volume shrank and salinity rose, the sea’s natural ecosystem collapsed, unable to survive in the new conditions. By the 1990s only a third of the entire sea was left.

The Kok-Aral dam, completed in August 2005, was designed to save what remained of the Aral Sea by sectioning off its Northern part.

The dam has since helped restore 13% of the sea’s surface area – from 2,850 km2 in 2003 to 3,250 in May 2006 – and brought back the coastline to some fishing villages stranded by the receding waters. The sea recovered faster than expected, the World Bank said, with the Northern Aral Sea filling up within a year of the construction of the dam.

Salinity has come down from 34 grams in 1991 to less than 15g per litre in the last two years, brining freshwater fish back to the sea and increasing fish harvests.

“We are starting to see the first results of the project,” said Joop Stoutjesdijk, responsible for the project at the World Bank.

“It will take more time to see improvements in human and animal health and agriculture, but there are already positive impacts with fisheries and general conditional in and around the Northern Aral Sea,” he said.

Improving the irrigation frequency of two-thirds of the land in the Kazakh part of the Aral Sea is next on the list, accompanied by additional work to restore wetlands and fishing lakes.

The WB noted that recent media reports that the Bank approved a new US$126m loan to Kazakhstan are not correct.

A US$800,000 project, funded by a Japanese Grant, started at the beginning of this year and should take a year to complete, the World Bank said.

Goska Romanowicz

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