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Karakalpakstan and the curious case of a sea that disappeared

If there’s one human attribute that has caused the maximum amount of destruction in the world, it is greed. Karakalpakstan, a place in Uzbekistan, has been a victim of this greed. In the old days, this place was brimming with activity and its people were leading a prosperous life all thanks to the Aral Sea that was located there. Fishing was a popular activity and it is what kept the economy thriving.

Unfortunately, someone had an idea that ruined the lives of thousands of people. It was decided that the rivers linked to the Aral sea (Amu Darya and Syr Darya) would be diverted and the water would be used for cotton irrigation. It was a body blow for the people of Karkalapakstan as the sea started drying up shortly after. Shockingly, it was not a decision taken out of ignorance.

The powers that be knew fully well that the Aral sea will suffer as a result of these decisions.

“Up until the early 1960s the system was fairly stable. When they added even more irrigation canals in the 1960s, it was like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Suddenly the system was no longer sustainable. They knew what they were doing, but what they didn’t realize was the full range of the ecological consequences—and the rapidity with which the sea would vanish,” Philip Micklin, a professor at Western Michigan University, told National Geographic in an interview.

By 1987, the situation became so dire that the sea was split into two. The northern sea was located in Kazakhstan and the southern sea was located in Karakalpakstan.

By 2002, the southern sea had dried up even further and was now divided into eastern sea and western sea. By 2014, the eastern sea dried up entirely leaving a dry land that was prone to salt storms. These salt storms weren’t predicted by geochemists who planned the whole man-made disaster. They thought that a hard crust of sodium chloride would form after the sea dried up. They made a massive error as the people of Karakalpakstan are now more prone to several respiratory diseases.

The storms don’t just bring toxic levels of salt with them, they bring carcinogens such as DDT, hexachlorocyclohexane, toxaphene, and phosalone too. As a result, cases of esophageal cancer are 25 times more common in the region as compared to the world average. Along with that, cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis, birth defects and immunological disorders are very common. If one wants to see what life would be like after Armageddon, they should go to Karakalpakstan.

The Urruda take

At Urruda, we look at the whole issue with sadness and rage. While we feel sad for the people who lost their livelihood in the region, we are disgusted by the power-hungry monsters who were responsible for it.

We also think the case of the Aral sea is a warning for every nation that tries to trick nature to do its bidding. The fact is – if you mess with nature, it will hit back with equal force.

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