As the human civilization is evolving and industrial growth is booming, our planet Earth is faced with many environmental challenges. Rise in average temperatures, rise in sea level, destruction of ozone layer are all contributing to climatic changes in different areas of the world, that in turn has affected the lives of people and the flora and fauna of those areas.
The shrinking of Aral Sea is also an example of environmental disaster in modern times. Once, the fourth largest natural lake of the world has shrunk to about 10% of the original size.
Aral is a Turkish word which means “Sea of Islands”. Aral lake was the fourth biggest lake in the world with an area of 68,000 square kilometres. It lies between Kazakhstan in the north and Uzbekistan in the south. The Aral Sea was divided into two parts: the Small Aral Sea in the north, and the Large Aral Sea in the south.
They were separated by the Kokaral Island and connected by the narrow Berg Strait. The sea had more than 300 small islands, the largest of the islands, the Kokaral, Vozrozhdeniya, and Barsakel'mes.
In the early 1960s, the Soviet government decided the two rivers that fed the Aral Sea, the Amu Darya in the south and the Syr Darya in the northeast, would be diverted to irrigate the desert, in an attempt to grow rice, melons, cereals, and cotton.
This was part of the Soviet plan for cotton, or "white gold", to become a major export. This eventually succeeded, and today Uzbekistan is one of the world's largest exporters of cotton.
By 1960, between 20 and 60 cubic kilometres of water were going each year to the land instead of the sea. Most of the sea's water supply had been diverted, and in the 1960s, the Aral Sea began to shrink.
From 1961 to 1970, the Aral's sea level fell at an average of 20 cm (7.9 in) a year; in the 1970s, the average rate nearly tripled to 50–60 centimetres (20–24 in) per year, and by the 1980s it continued to drop, now with a mean of 80–90 centimetres (31–35 in) each year. The rate of water usage for irrigation continued to increase: the amount of water taken from the rivers doubled between 1960 and 2000, and cotton production nearly doubled in the same period.
The shrinking of the Aral Sea has been called "one of the planet's worst environmental disasters". The region's once prosperous fishing industry has been essentially destroyed, bringing unemployment and economic hardship. The Aral Sea region is also heavily polluted, with consequent serious public health problems. The retreat of the sea has reportedly also caused local climate change, with summers becoming hotter and drier, and winters colder and longer.
Let’s pray that the endeavours of different environmental groups to replenish the fading sea would be fruitful and we would see the blue waters of Aral Sea filled with marine life again.