There are many terrible legacies of the 20th Century. Pollution, Global Warming, nuclear waste to name but a few. The worst disaster left it's legacy for centuries. That disaster is the destruction of the Aral Sea. The destruction of what used to be the fourth largest inland sea in the world, and yet it was destroyed in a vain attempt to utilise this resource to boost the industry and cotton growth in the area.The result is boats that sit hundreds of miles from the shores of the sea that used to lap gently under their hulls. The plight of the Aral Sea was not brought to the attention of the world as a whole until the Sunday Times newspaper published an article on this disaster. Those images are used here.
[To do justice to the disaster, the Author hereby uses the original words of A.A. Gill, and photographs by Paul Lowe to illustrate this terrible story. This is because the original article cannot be surpassed for it's emotional content and sheer horror].
The man behind the desk has a bandaged ear. Perhaps a previous guest let him keep the rest of his head as a tip. He holds my passport and press accreditation as if they are fortune cookies containing death threats. He licks his fingers, then his lips, then the ballpoint and begins very slowly copying out the letters and numbers in triplicate on three ancient, moth-winged ledgers. He has no idea what he is writing, it's all English to him, awkward for his Cyrillic-conditioned fingers.
They don't get many strangers in these parts. Over the other side of the hall, a brace of men with flat, waxy, impervious faces, the plain mounts for gold teeth, lounge beside a telephone nailed to the wall. The desk is over here, the phone's over there. They don't get many inquiries. Three other chaps, who look like veterans of the Mongol pioneer corps, sit on an embalmed sofa, dipping lumps of thin grey bread into little cups of thin grey tea and sucking noisily. They are concentrating on an animated Russian fairy tale, broadcast through a snowstorm on a television that looks like it remembers Krushchev. "What do you think the dragon's going to do with the princess and the magic birch whip, Gengis?"
Finally, the aurally imperfect man writes US$40 on a scrap of paper and rubs his thumb and forefinger together. Forty dollars. That's more than a month's wages for a middle-class man here- if they had anything as outre and modern as a middle class. he hands me a receipt on a square of brown lavatory paper, which is useful because it's the only lavatory paper in the place. This is only a hotel because they charge you $40 to stay. There's no furniture and no soap. The water comes in a prostrated, rusty dribble. The bath has been used to interrogate sheep. The towel is a bar mat. There's a blanket, a chipped tin teapot and a carpet that looks like tar applied with a comb. All night, lost herdsmen bang on my door and stare as if they've seen the ghost of tsars past. Welcome to Nukus, rhymes with mucus, twinned with nowhere. Nukus, no mates.
Nukus is the capital of Kara-Kalpakistan. Don't pretend you've heard of it, a semi-autonomous republic in the far west of Uzbekistan. One of the "stans", shires of the former Soviet Union. A vast area of vast land. Desert, mountain, broken promises and wrecked grand plans once known collectively as Turkistan or where-the-hell's-that-stan. Now cut into five post-meltdown new countries - Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan - which stretch from the Caspian Sea in the west over Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Tien Shan mountains of China to Mongolia. The stans never figure on CNN's world weather map. Nothing much happens here to tempt the media's gimlet-eyed, Gap-shirted foreign correspondants, with their excitable cry of "Behind me, you can see..." This was the Russians' back yard, not open to the public - a place to dump rubbish, people, embarrassments and five-year plans. Up there somewhere in the desert is Star City and the space programme. Also the glowing half-life of above-ground nuclear test sites and their collateral seeping, cancerous waste. But right here is the big one - the stans' main claim to an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. The Kara-Kalpaks can boast the Biggest Ecological Disaster in the World, Ever. Nothing else, no smoking rainforest, no solitary carnivore, no home-county ring road, comes close to the majesty of this disaster. Not just the biggest, but the fastest. Organised and executed with the precipitate callousness, greed and sheer eye-bulging stupidity that only hands-on communism can muster.
They've managed to drain the Aral Sea, the fourth biggest lump of water on the globe, and they've done it in 20 years. The southern Aral was created and maintained by the Oxus river (now known as the Amu Darya), which rises in the frozen attic of the Pamir mountains and meanders across grassland in search of the coast, finally giving up and creating its own terminus. The Oxus is/was one of the great rivers - the ancient Persians thought it the greatest. Along its banks the towns of the silk route flourished. The orchards and spice gardens, the mulberry trees and roses of Samarkand and Bukhara and Khiva.
Cotton has always been grown here, mixed with silk into a bright material that made Bukhara famous. Then in 1861, across the Pacific, somethig apparently utterly unconnected with central Asia caused the flutter of chiffon that grew into a wind that became a dust stormthat changed everything: the American civil war. Russia was one of the few supporters of the South (we were another). Russia bought its cotton from the South - to make up for the deficit they increased prodution in the stans. When the communists took over, they decided bury capitalism in a generation, and turned the whole of this vast area into a mono-crop culture of the stuff. In 1932, they started the Fergana valley canal, one of the huge, murderous, wasteful engineering achievements of Stalinism, It was only the beginning. Soon the apparently inexhaustible Oxus was gashed and slashed with thousands of miles of arbitrary irrigation, canals and dams, hydroelectric plants and repetative ditches. They did the unthinkable, the unimaginable: they bled the river dry. Now it does not even reach the Aral Sea.
Oh, but that's not the half of it. Cotton is one of the thirstiest crops, and all mono-crops are prone to disease and infestation. Cotton naturally is particularly weedy. The haemorrhaging river leached salt that should have gone to the sea into the earth. The water came on and off the field up to 15 times in its course and sucked more salt to the surface, salinating the water table. Now a crystal layer sits on the exhausted earth and the tea tastes like a practical joke (oddly it improves the coffee). Here, the drinking water is three or four times more saline than is healthy or palatable. To salt the land is a biblical horror, the final murderous curse of a place. Kara-Kalpakistan has become the largest cruet set in the world. Ah, but we are not finished: terrified managers faced falling yields sprayed tonnes of phosphates, nitrogen and, worst, DDT indescriminately over the fields, and its still all here, blowing in the wind.
Step out onto the wide, grim, grey streets of Nukus, and in one slow pan you can see all you will ever need to know about communism. Its not so much that this place of hateful, cheap Soviet architecture fills the soul with gloom: it's that it sucks everything remotely beautiful or sensitive from the soul, leaving a vacuum of low-grade depression and the tinnitus of despair. It's almost unimaginably ugly and inhuman. Seventy years of communism, all that hardship, terror, death. All that effort and hope and promises, the forced migrations, the cruelty, exhaustion, misery and rationing, the starvation and privation, the mechanical, imperitive certainty of it all, ending up with this baking, grim bleakness.
A few bronchitic, gaseous Ladas career along its broadly potted and rotted roads, every one a taxi. An old woman squats beside and upturned box, selling individual cigarettes, sunflower seeds and sluggish, dusty cola. She is the summit of independent Uzbek private enterprise. A man in a traditional skullcap pulls a reluctant goat on a rope. The goat bleats piteously - it knows this is not a good day. Soviet-style posters of happy storm troopers and peasant girls fondling potent sheaves fade and curl in the hot wind. Bits of folk-painted hardboard clap against iron and cement like early drafts for BA tail fins. And everywhere is the motif of the cotton ball on lampposts and pylons and public buildings, a swastika-ish totalitarian emblem that taunts a whipped and indentured people. This is a bad place, a sick place. The damage to the land is as nothing compared with the damage to these people.
Here is a brief and incomplete list of what the Kara-Kalpaks can expect in return for their cheap cotton and blasted land: bronchial asthma, allergic rhinitis, infantile cerebral palsy, chronic lung disease, kidney disease, endocrine disease, urogenital disease, diseases of the nervous system, all of the way, way beyond what would be considered acceptable in a normal, moderately developed world, and chronic anaemia. Even before they're born, Kara-Kalpaks are cursed by their habitat: 97% of pregnant women are anaemic, 30% of births may have defects, 1 in 10 babies may already be dead. These figures, as with all statistics in this piece, are educated, conservative guesses by outside agencies. The Uzbeks don't make a habit of washing their salty linen in public or letting their citizens know what's sitting at the end of their bed. But there are special wards just for birth defects here that no outsider has ever seen, the consequence of DDT and salt and malnutrition - thin bread and tea is the daily diet of most Kara-Kalpaks. What makes all this more ironic is that these exhausted women were the original Amazons, the warrior caste Alexander supposedly would not fight. If a child makes it past birth and the 30% infant mortality rate, then it had better pack its experiences and fun tight, because life expectancy is probably only 38 choked, grim years.
The microscope I'm looking through is a gift from Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF). Through the mist of blue, stained lung gunk on the slide swims a bright red spot. That's it. Yes, that's definately it. The red spot that marks your card for life: tuberculosis. TB is the number one top-of-the-pops killer in Kara-Kalpakistan. New cases in Nukus come in at a hacking 167.9 per 100 000 of the population (50 is considered an epidemic elsewhere). The microscope is the only piece of equipment in Nukus's TB hospital that couldn't have been made by a carpenter of farrier. This rambling institution, like the hotel, is only a hospital because someone says it is. There is no equipment, nothing that plugs in, just iron beds and broken tables and Cyrillic posters warning against Aids, which hasn't got here yet. The distempered walls flake and sag.
There's an overwhelming smell of sick, hot sewage. A truck pumps out the open latrines. Most patients sit outside in the baking dust, catching what passes for fresh air. The hot wind gusts with thick, poisonous lungs. The stoic hawk and spit. Spitting is a national sport. When I suggested, all things considered, they might be asked to stop, I'm told it's delicate, it's a cultural thing. Yeah, and Genghis Khan thought kicking people to death in sacks was a cultural thing. TB is very, very infectious. We walk around wearing paper Donald Duck masks.
As ever, the children's ward is the most depressing: little girls wheezing on beds, watching the motes dance in the sun; the hospital cannot even feed them properly - a little yogurt if they are lucky; mothers in bright headscarves hover in corners, despirately grateful for even this, not wanting to draw attention or make a fuss; infants as young as nine months are brought in with TB. In children, it's likely not just to be pulmonary: it affects the other organs, the bone, the spine as meningitis.
A small lad tags along with us, pretty, pallid, central Asian features with a mop of black hair. Whenever I look round, he's there, sneaking with a tyke's smile and a slight squint. His name sounds like Gary. Gary's bright as a button, except he's not: he's got TB and the complications of pleurisy, and he's brain-damaged; and he's and orphan; he's seven.
Today, by chance, is my son's seventh birthday. Thousands of miles from here, his healthy lungs are blowing out candles. I should be there but I'm not; I'm here with Gary, who puts his face close to mine and laughs - the first laugh I've heard in days, a tinkling, ripling noise, an echo from another place. I smile back but realise he can't see it, because I'm wearing this antiseptic muzzle to protect me from his breath.
Being dealt TB, pleurisy, brain damage and a family of one in Nukus is about as low a hand as God can offer a seven-year-old. We walk on through the wards, the little hand fits into mine and breaks my heart. TB is not an illness like cancer or malaria or cholera. It's not the result of bad luck or bad drains or genes or insects. It's a consequence, an indicator of something else, something we've got loads of - money. More exactly, the absence of it. TB hitches a ride on the back of extreme poverty. Only the poor and malnourished, the weak, are susceptible. It's as if they read the instructions on the box the West comes in wrong, and went and got inconspicuous consumption. That it should have returned so violently and comprehensively in what was, until a decade ago, part of a superpower, is a symbol of how precipitous the collapse in central Asia has been.
MSF is treating TB with some success, and for every patient, of course, that's a miracle. But in the general walk of life in Uzbekistan, ity means little or nothing. MSF is here because someone should be here to show that someone out there noticed and cared. They can't tell how many of their failures have the terrifying new variant of drug-resistant TB. Oh, it's out there. Prisons have about 40% TB, one in five of those drug resistant. The only laboratories that could do the tests are in the West. Incidently, my local Chelsea & Westminster Hospital had a rare case last year: an immigrant who was kept in locked isolation. He escaped, and the health officer ordered a police search. Here it could be anyone: the waiter, the man who spits at your feet, the policeman who leans in the wondow to check your papers. The treatment for drug-resistant TB costs £8 000, has side effects of kidney failure and blindness, lasts five months and then it's only 50-50, a toss-up.
Don't stop reading yet. the best bit is still to come. We haven't got to Muynak yet, the destination of this piece, the real reason I came here. Someone said to me in passing, apropos of nothing, over lunch in the Ivy: "Hey, why don't you go to the worst place in the world?" The worst place in the world has an emphatic ring to it.
We leave Nukus in an ancient Volga. The driver loves it. A fine car. A good car. It's a deathtrap heap: the safety belt is attached to the chassis with gaffer tape. On the outskirts of town, abridge crosses the Oxus. the river is a brown, turgid worm as broad as a peaty salmon-spawn stream. "There are the old banks where it used to run," points the driver. Where? I look and can't see. And then, pulling back for focus, the width and depths of the once-upon-a-time river are revealed in the distance. It was huge, wider than the Nile - a dozen motorways across. Awesome, appalling. The road traces the crippled stream north, through the horizon-shoving flatness of semi-desert and large, vacant fields with a frosting of salt. We pass plunky, unstable three-wheeled tractors, sand-matted camels, men in traditional long coats and boots with galoshes riding dusty, ballet-toed donkeys, and patient families with small, plastic bundles waiting for lifts. Every tree in Uzbekistan is painted white. It's the literalism of communism. Someone once wrote an after-lunch memo, and the next day they started painting all the tress. We stop in a village to visit the hospital. the doctor in his white coat, boiled thin and translucent, and the tall chef's hat that medical folk wear here, stands in the dust. A cleaning woman is tearing a strip off him; the patients stare at him. For a moment, he looks at the ants and silently turns back to his barren, distempered office. His one medical assistant has just got TB. He hasn't been paid his pittence of a salary for seven months. The health ministry has fined his under-resourced hospital for not disposing of its rubbish properly. He hasn't got an incinerator, a tin can belches greasy sputum smoke. He drinks. All day, every day, hopelessly.
When the Soviet Union finally collapsed with exhaustion and horror, the stans were the only constituent part that didn't want independence. They actually asked to stay - better the devil... Russia had to push them out like reluctant teenagers, so they waited till they had half a dozen Aeroflot planes on their provincial runways and declared independence and a national airline. Nothing else changed much - it just got smaller and meaner. Uzbekistan is still a one-party command economy. It recently came top of a business magazine's list of the world's most corrupt countries (when that was reprinted in the local press, Uzbekistan's name had miraculously vanished, that's how corrupt it is). Every cotton harvest, schools, universities and offices are emptied into the fields. Everyone must pick and sleep in freezing barns, beg food and drink salty ditchwater. It gets harder every year the fields are scoured for every wisp of cotton. Yet the people don't yearn for democracy. Democracy is an indecipherable foreign language. Since before the birth of Christ, this swathe of earth has suffered under waves of light-cavalry dictators: Macedonians, Persians, Arabs, Scythians, Mongols, Russians. A word was invented for them: horde.
This place is antidemocracy, the opposite of democracy. What people yearn for is a new, better, stronger megalomaniac. There are rumblings of infectious, fundamental Islam coming from out of the desert, and the government is keen to associate itself with the personality cult of Tamerlane, or Timur, as they call him, erecting hideous, uber-realistic statues, gaining strength by retrospective association. Timur was Uzbekistan's home-grown 10th-Century monster, creator and desecrator of the biggest land-base empire ever seen. A man who made stalin look Swiss.
Muynak quivers out of the dust. It looks like solidifying dust, shimmering in the heat haze. It's a seaside town, a spa town, a summer holiday place with a promenade that's also a fishing port with a flotilla of big trawlers and cargo barges in a harbour. There's a huge fish cannery that's won international awards. You can tell instinctively it's a seaside town. It has that sense, that rather tatty, low-rise feeling; light and air, bracing.
We walk up a dune to the edge of a beach and look out to sea. It's desert, as far as the eye can stretch - flat, scrub desert with shells. Muynak is now 100 kilometres from the water. It's as if you stood on Brighton pier and the sea started at Paris - truly unbelievable, shocking. In the distance, dust storms twist, a family walks across the seabed, the father's angry: "Wolves," he shouts. Wolves took his cow in the night. His son carries its head in a congealing sack. Sea wolves, sea cow. Muynak is a town in shock. It feels the sea like an amputated limb. Still aches for it. Men sit and look out at the waves of sand and hear the surf. The Aral Sea, with its thick deposits of salt and chemicals, is now the biggest single collection of dust in the world. It's the equivalent of a friable, airborne, choking Holland. Every year, suffocating toxic clouds blow into town. Man-killer dust. And I forgot to mention, out there, just over the curl of the earth, is an island that, in the way of this country's negative absolutes, has the biggest chemical weapons plant in the world, that contains the largest dump of anthrax on the planet - abandoned, waiting for the wind.
Of all the ills that have been dumped on Kara-Kalpakistan, it seems invidious, unnecessary, to mention unhappiness, but Muynak feels grief-stricken to the point of madness. The people move with a slow, pointless lethargy. All around, there are signs of psychotic, repetative comfort: men sit rocking like caged bears, women with short reed brooms sweep their doorsteps manically for hours. I watch a man wash an ancient green van from sunrise to sunset, the corrosive dust falling as fast as he can wipe. Early one morning, I notice an old chap sitting on a bench staring at the absent coast, legs crossed, arms folded in his lap. At dusk, he's still there, hasn't moved a muscle.
The town itself is worn out, all its constituent parts loose and sagging; hinges rasp, the edges of things are darkly rounded with abrasion. It's coming to the end, the factories and canneries slowly sink into the grit. The darkly empty fish fridges are slumped saunas in the heat. Steel hawsers and bits of black metal grow out of the rising earth like hardy plants or drowning hands. Even imagining the effort that once invigorated them is exhausting. Stunted cattle plod the street, cudding dust and mus, so scrawny that at first I wondered why they were all calves. Large, hard-boned dogs crack their skulls on the smoky rubbish wasteland on the edge of town, hanks of gory sheepskin lie in the turgid filth and multi-species dung. Only the children run and shriek and throw stones and wrestle like children everywhere, making balls out of rags. the three, parallel Tarmac streets are their playground. The road is covered in chalk drawings: hopscotch and football pitches, pictograms of dolls and soldiers, houses and cars and ships. Ships they'll never sail in. It's a long, black wish-list letter to Father Christmas, the one dictator who never visited these parts.
They're still here, the ships - huge ships, blackened and callused. They lie askew in their dry beds, at anchor for ever, their plates wrenched off to make defensive stockades for houses. Their ribs are like the bones of extinct animals; brave and boastful names peel off their hulls. I lie in the dunes and listen to them, the wind plays them like a sad band: hatches boom, metal keens for the lost sea. A hawk hunts the sparse grass where seagulls should call, runty cattle move silently in line astern. You can still hear it, the echo of the surf hissing on the hot shore. It is the strangest, most maudlin place I've ever been. there's something particularly awful about dead ships. All other discarded man-engineered metal is an eyesore rubbish, but not shipos. They retain a sense of what they were: a majesty, a memory of the lightness under their keels. Of all the things that sailors dread, carry superstitious talismans against, weather and wave, snapped hawser and hidden shoal, none ever in his wildest dreams imagined the sea would leave him, would get up and steal away.
This town thought many things, worried and dreaded plenty, but it could not conceive that it could be abandoned to dust. Up on a dune overlooking the mirage of water is the Russian sailors' graveyard. The crosses made out of welded iron pipe have, in the Orthodox way, three crossbars. Unkempt and crooked, they look like the spars of tall ships ferrying the dead. All the Russians that could go have gone now, leaving the Kara-Kalpaks. But the old Russian harbour master is still here, living in a dark hovel of memories and smells with his babushka wife, a painting of Stalin and a map of remembrance with fathom markings that are thin air. He has his uniform and grows garrulous about the good days when there were 40 000 people here. Holiday-makers, work and play. "It took a day, a whole day, to sail across the Aral. We knew it was shrinking; we built canals out to it; we chased after the sea." And then, one day in 1986, all the fishing boats went out, cast their nets in a circle, and when they pulled them in, there was nothing. "We knew it was the end."
A story like this, a story of such unremitting misery, ought to end with a candle of hope. There should be something to be done. Well, I'm sorry, there isn't. Plenty of better men with clipboards and white Land Cruisers have been here to put it back together again, but they've retreated, dumbfounded and defeated. The World Bank has just spent $40m on a feasibility study and come up with a big idea. The big idea is a wetland bird reserve. Thanks, that would do nicely. You can't cry over spilt water: it just adds more salt. The sea will never come back to Muynak. the river will never repair its banks to meet it, The people of Muynak have nothing to do and nowhere to go; surrounded by thousands of miles of dust, without money or health or expectations, they'll just wait to die. The children will stop drawing in the street, grow up and give up, and the town will give up with them.
I said at the beginning that it was an ecological disaster, but that's not right. That puts it at a remove, makes the Oxus and the Aral sea a piece of cowboy exterior design, a cockup with fish and minerals. It's not that. It's a human disaster of titanic proportions. This hard Earth of ours doesn't care if it's a sea or a desert, a river or a dune. It has no game plan, no aesthetic. Eagles will replace the gulls, and there are plenty of salt-loving succulents that see this as a golden opportunity. Rivers and seas come and go, there's just no space for people here. for them, for us.
In a hospital a young lad sits on the edge of his bed. He is frightenend, his eyes are like saucers. Hi sbreath is quick and shallow as a trapped bird. He's right to be frightened. He's very, very sick. his bones incubate a mortal malevolence. His mother has pinned a little cloth triangle to his shirt. I ask what it is. "A protection against the evil eye, for good luck." It holds salt - cotton and salt. Boy, was she ever misinformed.
[Authors note: with the contemporary history now laid out, the future for the area is now revealed...]
The Kara-Kalpakistan situation was never a problem to be solved overnight. The rise of militant Islamic groups in the surrounding area led to a period of extreme instability for the first part of the 21st Century. The Aral Sea continued to shrink and observers and scientific minds could not see a solution. The breakthrough came with the idea of slowly regenerating the sea a stage at a time. The anthrax danger became the catalyst for action in the area.
The regeneration came too late for a large proportion of the population and some of the towns. Rampant antibiotic-resistant strains of TB claimed large numbers of casualties, and that was before the arrival of AIDS in the area. The town of Muynak became first a ghost town and then just a memory, swallowed by the salty desert that used to be the sea. The Kara-Kalpaks became an object of morbid fascination as the world gradually became aware of their plight.
Bringing the fourth largest body of inland sea back to life was never going to be an easy proposition. It was going to take time, a multi-national effort and a large dose of ignorance as far as the cost was concerned. With the growth of the "green" movement during the 20th Century, and the rise of the environmentalists, the world was ready in the 21st Century to tackle the problems that had been developing over the last 100 or so years. The Kara-Kalpakistan situation became one that the environmentalists pinned their banners to. This was the area that was the worst ecological and humanitarian disaster in the world, if they could tackle this one then surely all the other ecological disasters of the world would be easier to resolve?
Another factor that played into the Kara-Kalpaks hands was the increasing need of the world on solar power. With a newly created expanse of desert meant that the Kara-Kalpaks now had an exploitable resource they could both use for themselves and sell to their neighbours. With this new industry, the Kara-Kalpaks began to infuse their country with power, and the ability to possess the technology that they so badly needed to pull their country from the Dark Ages. With the introduction of computers, modern medical technologies and information technology, Kara-Kalpakistan found new life. Muynak was rediscovered in the mid-late 21st Century, a ghost town in the middle of the desert. A few solitary die-hards lived there, scraping their life from the desert. The area was pin-pointed for development, and the government - in cooperation with environmentalists - began the long task of regenerating the Aral Sea. With the solar powered revolution in the area, the hydro-power plants were not required. Water management specialists were brought in to regenerate the Oxus river, to try to gently build it back up to the old levels. Specialist water transports were used to bring water from the Black Sea to the Aral Sea.
In a process that spanned over a century, the Aral Sea slowly began to regenerate along with the country of Kara-Kalpakistan. There were celebrations that lasted almost a year when the waters of the Aral Sea finally returned to Muynak during the 22nd Century. The population of Kara-Kalpakistan began to balloon exponentially as the medical resources ensured a longer and longer lifespan.
By the end of the 23rd Century, Muynak is home to a population of 300 000. The city is famous for being the birthplace of the current Starfleet Commander, Admiral Irina Khmelnova. She was born there in 2250 and has the proud tradition of visiting the city every year to remember where she came from. The Starfleet Commander has her own yacht 'Georgi', named in memory of her grandfather. She can be found - whenever she can - sailing over the large expanse that the Aral Sea has become once more. One interesting side-effect of the return of the Aral Sea to Muynak is the need to find old archive depth charts for the harbour in order that the harbour could be negotiated safely.
With the regeneration of the Aral Sea, the peoples of Earth realised that they can reverse the damage that had been wrought on the planet over the centuries.
Original story and images copyright © A. A. Gill and Paul Lowe of the Sunday Times. 2000. All rights reserved.
Here is another report on the area. taken from Uzreport, copyright Uzreport 2001.
Karakalpakstan: Nothing Sown On Over 50 Per Cent Of Land
Uzbek Radio Youth Channel. Posted May 26, 2001
A meeting on relief for people living in the Aral Sea area, which is suffering from water shortages and drought, took place at the Uzbek Ministry of Macroeconomics and Statistics on May 27. It was attended by representatives of international organizations and embassies.
It was noted at the meeting that 875m soms [the official rate is 353.72 soms to the dollar] had been allocated in 2000 from the reserve fund of the Cabinet of Ministers as emergency aid to people in Karakalpakstan and Khorezm Region [both in northwestern Uzbekistan] who suffered from the shortage of water, and 756m soms to poor families. Apart from that, 356m soms were given to farms to buy fertilizer and lubricants, 200m soms for work in the public sector, 200m soms to protect forests and 100m soms to clean the main sewers and others. In other words, 2,687m soms [as received; figures add up to 2,487m] were allocated to measures designed to relieve the consequences of water shortages.
A deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers of the [Autonomous] Republic of Karakalpakstan, Qonghratbay Doshymbayev, spoke about the work currently being carried out in the republic and the importance of the meeting. In particular, he said the following:
[Doshymbayev] Nothing has been sown on over 200,000 ha of land. What does this mean? It means that nothing has been sown in over 50 per cent of our land. According to the plan, we should have sown cottonseed over 125,000 ha. We have sown only 80,000 ha. Rice should have been sown over 80,000 ha, but not an inch of land has been sown to rice so far. Cotton and rice are the foundation of Karakalpakstan's economy.
The second difficult issue is providing people with drinking water. In Karakalpakstan, 50 per cent of people in rural areas are not supplied with drinking water. They use groundwater and water from canals. No matter how this water damages people's health, whether it is drinkable or not, whether it is good or bad, people have no choice. They have to drink it.
There is a third problem. Most of the population in our republic lives and works in villages. Providing people with jobs has become a very difficult issue. In 2001 alone, 52,000 people working in the agricultural sector have become unemployed.