Uzbek land contaminated by pesticides and bad irrigation

The Karakalpakstan region of Uzbekistan is suffering from land contaminated by years of dreadful agricultural practices, which mean that now in order for crops to be grown in fields, the land first has to be flooded and drained to wash away contamination from the surface.

The region, which is home to one million people, and comprises the eastern third of Uzbekistan, is now receiving food aid from the Red Cross because sustained cotton growing – a plant that required large amounts of water –has rendered much of the land useless, reports The Moscow Times.

Karakalpakstan’s problems are the result of a Soviet agricultural policy that brought the cotton to the region. Cotton requires large amounts of water and long hot summers. In order to make up for the region’s innate lack of water, Soviet planners built gigantic irrigation networks to divert water from the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers, and poured thousands of tonnes of pesticides, fertilisers and other chemicals into the fields, polluting the water as it flowed back to the Aral Sea.

Instead of bringing long-term wealth, however, the crop, combined with recent drought, has resulted in dry land and poor air quality due to the chemical-laden dust. As well as this, so much water has been used for irrigation that the rivers no longer reach the Aral Sea, which is shrinking and dying, says the newspaper report.

According to Red Cross officials, land has to be flooded and drained four times in order to remove contamination. However, although the resultant runoff flows back into the Amu Darya River, it does not reach the sea. Instead, the water evaporates, leaving the toxic sludge to dry and blow around the region, endangering human health and poisoning more land.

Many local people are unaware that anything other than the drought is causing the region’s problems, says The Moscow Times. “If there was rain we could feed ourselves, but this year we need this support very much,” said Zhupargul, a mother of 11, as one of her sons returned home with food aid. “For two years now we’ve been living on tea and bread.”

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