Aral Sea, a shocking disaster, says UN Secy Gen | india | Hindustan Times
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Aral Sea, a shocking disaster, says UN Secy Gen

The drying up of the Aral Sea is one of the planet’s most shocking environmental disasters, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urges central Asian leaders to step up efforts.

india Updated: Apr 06, 2010 16:23 IST

The drying up of the Aral Sea is one of the planet’s most shocking environmental disasters, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday. He urged central Asian leaders to step up efforts to solve the problem.

Once the world’s fourth-largest lake, the sea has shrunk by 90 per cent. This is because the rivers that used to feed it were largely diverted in a Soviet project to boost cotton production in the arid region. The shrunken sea has ruined the once-robust fishing economy and left fishing trawlers stranded in sandy wastelands, leaning over as if they dropped from the air. The sea’s evaporation has left layers of highly- salted sand, which winds can carry as far away as Scandinavia and Japan, and which plague local people with health troubles.

The UN Secretary-General toured the sea by helicopter on Sunday as part of a visit to the five countries of former Soviet Central Asia. His trip included a touchdown in Muynak, Uzbekistan, a town once on the shore where a pier stretches eerily over gray desert and camels stand near the hulks of stranded ships.

“On the pier, I wasn’t seeing anything, I could see only a graveyard of ships,” he said after arriving in Nukus, the nearest sizeable city and capital of the autonomous Karakalpak region. “It is clearly one of the worst disasters, environmental disasters of the world. I was so shocked,” he said. The Aral Sea catastrophe is one of his top concerns on a six-day trip through the region and he is calling on the countries’ leaders to set aside rivalries to cooperate on repairing some of the damage.

“I urge all the leaders ... to sit down together and try to find the solutions,” he said, promising the United Nations’ support. However, cooperation is hampered by disagreements over who has rights to scarce water and how it should be used.

In a presentation to the UN Secretary-General before his flyover, Uzbek officials complained that dam projects in Tajikistan will severely reduce the amount of water flowing into Uzbekistan. Impoverished Tajikistan sees the hydroelectric projects as potential key revenue earners.