Aral Sea basin, near Muynak, northern Uzbekistan, 2009
Perhaps the worst man-made natural disaster evolved for years, hidden under the iron curtain of the Soviet Union.
In the 1960s the Aral Sea was one of the four largest lakes in the world, fed by the rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya. The sea was rich in fish and supported an industry dedicated to the cultivation of these resources. It all changed as Soviet planners diverted the rivers to serve cotton production in the barren desert surrounding the sea.
The consequences were catastrophic.
As of 2009 the shoreline had receded more than one hundred kilometers and the once thriving city of Muynak has been rendered into a ghost town while the entire area is contaminated by blowing sand and salt from the empty basin. This contributes to the region’s extremely high rate of tuberculosis. The few people who still inhabit Muynak and the kids that have to grow up there, face all these problems, a scarce supply of drinkable water and poverty.
The rusty remnants of fishing boats on the sand on the outskirts of town, bear sad witness to man’s abuse of nature.