Human-Environment Interaction 353
A HUMAN PERSPECTIVE Since the 1960s, irrigation policies in Central
Asia have had a dramatic impact on the Aral Sea. A recent visitor to an
old Aral fishing village described the change: “I stood on what had once
been a seaside bluff . . . but I could see no water. The sea was twenty-five
miles away.” The dried-up seabed had become a graveyard for aban-
doned ships. The powerful winds were covering local populations with
polluted dust picked up from the seabed. Thousands of people have left
the region, and those who remain risk illness, or even death. In this sec-
tion, you will read more about the complex relationship between the
environment and the people of Russia and the Republics.
The Shrinking Aral Sea
Between 1960 and the present, the Aral Sea lost about 80 percent of its
water. Central Asian leaders now face one of the earth’s greatest environ-
A DISAPPEARING LAKE The Aral Sea receives most of its water from
two rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya. Before the 1960s, these
rivers delivered nearly 13 cubic miles of water to the Aral Sea every
year. But in the 1950s, officials
began to take large amounts of
water from the rivers to irrigate
Central Asia’s cotton fields. Large-
scale irrigation projects, such as
the 850-mile-long Kara Kum
canal, took so much water from
the rivers that the flow of water
into the Aral slowed to a trickle.
The sea began to evaporate.
EFFECTS OF AGRICULTURE
Agricultural practices in Central
Asia caused other problems for
the Aral Sea. Cotton growers used
pesticides and fertilizers. These
chemicals were being picked up
runoff—rainfall not absorbed
by the soil that runs into streams and rivers. The runoff carried the
chemicals into the rivers that feed the Aral, with devastating effects. Of
the 24 native species of fish once found in the sea, none are left today.
• The region’s harsh climate
has been both an obstacle
and an advantage to its
• Attempts to overcome the
region’s geographic limits
have sometimes had negative
Places & Terms
Connect to the Issues
regional leaders must solve
economic problems caused by
the former Soviet Union.
RUSSIA & REP.
INTERACTION These two
images, taken in 1976 and 1997,
show what happened after
agricultural officials began
diverting water from the rivers
that feed the Aral Sea.