Aralkum with the remaining areas of the Aral Sea in 2014
Animated map of the shrinking of the Aral Sea, and growing Aralkum
|Countries||Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan|
While the level of the Aral Sea has fluctuated over its existence, the most recent level drop since the 1960s was caused by the Soviet Union building massive irrigation projects in the region. The severely reduced inflow subsequently caused the water level in the Aral Sea to drop. While the North Aral Sea is rising due to the Dike Kokaral, the South Aral Sea kept dropping, thus expanding the size of the desert, until 2010, when the South Aral Sea was partly reflooded. The water level of the South Aral Sea then began to drop again, this time more severely.
The sands of the Aralkum and the dust that originates from it contain pollutants. The desert's location on a powerful east–west airstream has resulted in pesticides in the dust being found in the blood of penguins in Antarctica. Aral dust has also been found in the fields of Russia, the forests of Norway, and in the glaciers of Greenland.
Salt, sand, and dust from exposed Aral Sea mud beds blow across the region, harming people and crops. The excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers from farms has poisoned food and drinking water. The human cost of the crisis has been high in the Aral Sea area. For instance, infant mortality rates have consistently been the highest in the former Soviet Union
... The effect of pollution is aggravated by the fact that the Aral Sea is situated on the "highway" where strong currents of air are blowing from the west to the east. ... That is why pesticides from the Aral region are found in the blood of penguins living in the Antarctic continent. ...
The Aral Sea () was an endorheic lake (one with no outflow) lying between Kazakhstan (Aktobe and Kyzylorda Regions) in the north and Uzbekistan (Karakalpakstan autonomous region) in the south. The name roughly translates as "Sea of Islands", referring to over 1,100 islands that had dotted its waters; in the Turkic languages aral means "island, archipelago". The Aral Sea drainage basin encompasses Uzbekistan and parts of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and Iran.Formerly the fourth largest lake in the world with an area of 68,000 km2 (26,300 sq mi), the Aral Sea has been shrinking since the 1960s after the rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet irrigation projects. By 1997, it had declined to 10% of its original size, splitting into four lakes: the North Aral Sea, the eastern and western basins of the once far larger South Aral Sea, and one smaller intermediate lake. By 2009, the southeastern lake had disappeared and the southwestern lake had retreated to a thin strip at the western edge of the former southern sea; in subsequent years, occasional water flows have led to the southeastern lake sometimes being replenished to a small degree. Satellite images taken by NASA in August 2014 revealed that for the first time in modern history the eastern basin of the Aral Sea had completely dried up. The eastern basin is now called the Aralkum Desert.
In an ongoing effort in Kazakhstan to save and replenish the North Aral Sea, the Dike Kokaral dam project was completed in 2005; in 2008, the water level in this lake had risen by 12 m (39 ft) compared to 2003. Salinity has dropped, and fish are again found in sufficient numbers for some fishing to be viable. The maximum depth of the North Aral Sea is 42 m (138 ft) (as of 2008).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 decimated, bringing unemployment and economic hardship. The water from the diverted Syr Darya river is used to irrigate about two million hectares (5,000,000 acres) of farmland in the Ferghana Valley. The Aral Sea region is also heavily polluted, with consequential serious public health problems.
UNESCO added the historical documents concerning the development of the Aral Sea to its Memory of the World Register as a unique resource to study this "environmental tragedy".Barsakelmes Lake
Barsakelmes Lake is a portion of water located between the Northern and Western Seas of the former unified Aral Sea and increasing at the expanse of the Aralkum Desert.Central Asia
Central Asia stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east and from Afghanistan in the south to Russia in the north. The region consists of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. It is also colloquially referred to as "the stans" as the countries generally considered to be within the region all have names ending with the Persian suffix "-stan", meaning "land of".Central Asia (2019) has a population of about 72 million, consisting of five republics: Kazakhstan (pop. 18 million), Kyrgyzstan (6 million), Tajikistan (9 million), Turkmenistan (6 million), and Uzbekistan (33 million). Afghanistan (pop. 35 million), which is a part of South Asia, is also sometimes included in Central Asia.Central Asia has historically been closely tied to its nomadic peoples and the Silk Road. It has acted as a crossroads for the movement of people, goods, and ideas between Europe, Western Asia, South Asia, and East Asia. The Silk Road connected Muslim lands with the people of Europe, India, and China. This crossroads position has intensified the conflict between tribalism and traditionalism and modernization.In pre-Islamic and early Islamic times, Central Asia was predominantly Iranian, populated by Eastern Iranian-speaking Bactrians, Sogdians, Chorasmians and the semi-nomadic Scythians and Dahae. After expansion by Turkic peoples, Central Asia also became the homeland for the Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tatars, Turkmen, Kyrgyz, and Uyghurs; Turkic languages largely replaced the Iranian languages spoken in the area.
From the mid-19th century until almost the end of the 20th century, most of Central Asia was part of the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union, both Slavic-majority countries, and the five former Soviet "-stans" are still home to about 7 million ethnic Russians and 500,000 Ukrainians.Libyan jird
The Libyan jird (Meriones libycus) is a species of rodent in the family Muridae. It is found in Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Western China. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry shrubland, intermittent saline lakes, hot deserts, and rural gardens.Midday jird
The midday jird, or midday gerbil (Meriones meridianus), is a species of rodent in the family Muridae and native to sandy deserts in Afghanistan, China, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. How this rodent received its common name is unclear as it is mainly nocturnal.Northern three-toed jerboa
The northern three-toed jerboa (Dipus sagitta) is a species of rodent in the family Dipodidae. It is monotypic within the genus Dipus.
It ranges across Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, China and Mongolia. A common species, the International Union for Conservation of Nature rates it as being of "least concern".South Aral Sea
The South Aral Sea was a lake in the basin of the former Aral Sea which formed in 1987 when that body divided in two, due to diversion of river inflow for agriculture. In 2003, the South Aral Sea itself split into eastern and western basins, the Eastern Sea and the West Aral Sea, connected by a narrow channel (channel bed at an elevation of 29 m (95 ft)) that balanced surface levels but did not allow mixing, and in 2005 the North Aral Sea was dammed to prevent the collapse of its fisheries, cutting off the only remaining inflow to the southern lakes. In 2008, the Eastern Sea split again, and in May 2009 had almost completely dried out, leaving only the small permanent Barsakelmes Lake between the Northern and Western Seas and increasing the expanse of the Aralkum desert. In 2010, it was partially filled again by meltwater, and by 2014 was once again dry. The West Aral Sea has some replenishment from groundwater in the northwest, and so is likely to avoid desiccation.Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan (UK: , US: ; Uzbek: Oʻzbekiston pronounced [ozbekiˈstɒn]), officially the Republic of Uzbekistan (Uzbek: Oʻzbekiston Respublikasi), is a landlocked country in Central Asia. The sovereign state is a secular, unitary constitutional republic, comprising 12 provinces, one autonomous republic, and a capital city. Uzbekistan is bordered by five landlocked countries: Kazakhstan to the north; Kyrgyzstan to the northeast; Tajikistan to the southeast; Afghanistan to the south; and Turkmenistan to the southwest. Along with Liechtenstein, it is one of the world's only two doubly landlocked countries.
What is now Uzbekistan was in ancient times part of the Iranian-speaking region of Transoxiana and Turan. The first recorded settlers were Eastern Iranian nomads, known as Scythians, who founded kingdoms in Khwarezm (8th–6th centuries BC), Bactria (8th–6th centuries BC), Sogdia (8th–6th centuries BC), Fergana (3rd century BC – 6th century AD), and Margiana (3rd century BC – 6th century AD). The area was incorporated into the Iranian Achaemenid Empire and, after a period of Macedonian Greek rule, was ruled by the Iranian Parthian Empire and later by the Sasanian Empire, until the Arab conquest of Iran in the 7th century. The Muslim conquest in the 7th century converted the majority of the population, including the local ruling classes, into adherents of Islam. During this period, cities such as Samarkand, Khiva and Bukhara began to grow rich from the Silk Road. The local Khwarezmian dynasty, and Central Asia as a whole, were decimated by the Mongol invasion in the 13th century. After the Mongol Conquests, the area became increasingly dominated by Turkic peoples. The city of Shahrisabz was the birthplace of the Turco-Mongol warlord Timur, who in the 14th century established the Timurid Empire and was proclaimed the Supreme Emir of Turan with his capital in Samarkand. The area was conquered by Uzbek Shaybanids in the 16th century, moving the centre of power from Samarkand to Bukhara. The region was split into three states: Khanate of Khiva, Khanate of Kokand, and Emirate of Bukhara. It was gradually incorporated into the Russian Empire during the 19th century, with Tashkent becoming the political center of Russian Turkestan. In 1924, after national delimitation, the constituent republic of the Soviet Union known as the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic was created. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, it declared independence as the Republic of Uzbekistan on 31 August 1991.
Uzbekistan has a diverse cultural heritage due to its storied history and strategic location. Its first major official language is Uzbek, a Turkic language written in the Latin alphabet and spoken natively by approximately 85% of the population. Russian has widespread use as a de-facto language; it is the most widely taught second language. Uzbeks constitute 81% of the population, followed by Russians (5.4%), Tajiks (4.0%), Kazakhs (3.0%), and others (6.5%). Muslims constitute 79% of the population while 5% of the population follow Russian Orthodox Christianity, and 16% of the population follow other religions or are non-religious. A majority of Uzbeks are non-denominational Muslims. Uzbekistan is a member of the CIS, OSCE, UN, and the SCO. While officially a democratic republic, by 2008 non-governmental human rights organizations defined Uzbekistan as "an authoritarian state with limited civil rights".Following the death of Islam Karimov in 2016, the second president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, started a new course, which was described as a A Quiet Revolution and Revolution from Above. He stated he intended to abolish cotton slavery, systematic use of child labour, exit visas, to introduce a tax reform, create four new free economic zones, as well as amnestied some political prisoners. The relations with neighboring countries of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan drastically improved. However, the Amnesty International report on human rights in the country for 2017/2018 described continued repressive measures, including forced labour in cotton harvesting, and restrictions on movements of 'freed' prisoners.The Uzbek economy is in a gradual transition to the market economy, with foreign trade policy being based on import substitution. In September 2017, the country's currency became fully convertible in the market rates. Uzbekistan is a major producer and exporter of cotton. The country also operates the largest open-pit gold mine in the world. With the gigantic power-generation facilities of the Soviet era and an ample supply of natural gas, Uzbekistan has become the largest electricity producer in Central Asia. Renewable energy constitutes more than 23% of the country's energy sector, with hydroelectricity and solar energy having 21.4% and 2% respectively.