Demise of Aral Sea Seen Sparking Military Conflicts in
Paul Goble, September 29, 2009
The demise of the Aral Sea,
the loss of which is already having an adverse effect on two-thirds of the 50
million people in
In an article posted today on the Chaskor.ru portal, Mikhail Vovk says that the desertification of what had been one of the world’s largest inland bodies of water “could lead in the foreseeable future to the rise of a series of armed conflicts between states [there] over the right to control sources of potable water” (www.chaskor.ru/p.php?id=10769).
But even before any of these conflicts break out, there is a more pressing concern, Vovk says. There are fears Afghan rebels might stage a raid on the Vozrozhdeniye facility where the Soviet military tested and then stored biological weapons. That facility had been on an island in the Aral, but as a result of the retreat of the sea’s waters, it is now reachable via dry land.
The longstanding tension between the two water-surplus countries, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and the three water-short countries, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan has been exacerbated by the decision of Bishkek and Dushanbe to use more of the flow to power hydro-electric facilities and thus release less water downstream.
the Soviets bear significant responsibility for the current situation. By
deciding to make Central Asia a cotton-growing center, the communist regime
ensured that the three down-stream countries of the Amu
The Aral’s decline began in the middle of the last century, but it has accelerated over the last decade, Vovk suggests. In 1989, it had shrunk to the point of dividing in two parts – the Small Aral in the north and the Greater Aral in the south. Its waters became increasingly saline, killing fish and the fishing industry. And the area around it became ever more a desert.
in turn led to dust storms which spread across the region into
than half of the population in the immediate area, Vovk
continues, suffers from cancer, tuberculosis, typhus, and hepatitis, all
diseases that the drying up of the sea has exacerbated. And experts say that
now two-thirds of the 50 million residents of
this impact, it is not surprising that governments in the region have sought a
way out but so far with little success. In 1993, the heads of the five
countries created an International Foundation for the Salvation of the Aral
Sea, but the only country that attracted significant funding was
With few prospects that they will be able to reorient their economies or significantly slow population growth, the four other countries have been unable to take any serious steps or reach any water-sharing agreement. And as a result, “relations among these former Soviet republics are so tense that they with great probability will lead to war rather than to peace.”
Vovk gives as an example of this the tensions
he continues, “similar relations exist among the other countries of this region
as well,” with tensions between
is involved on all sides, but its ability to “regulate the conflicts,” Vovk points out, is limited by its interest in building the
dams in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that are viewed in the other three countries
as a major part of the water problem. Consequently,
a result, Vovk concludes, “no fundamental changes for
the better will take place” in