UZBEKISTAN: Planting trees in the Aral Sea

When I was a kid in the 90s, I was fascinated by maps showing the decline of the Aral Sea (which still existed back then) – it still stuns me how quickly a whole lake can just vanish over a lifetime. The above video goes into good detail about the history and the present of the sea. It also touches on how Kazakhstan has been able to stabilize and partially regrow what’s left of the north part of the sea, but the half in Uzbekistan has largely been left to dry up completely.

Source: Britannica

The dust storms caused by this drying up have been described as “cataclysmic“, especially in Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region covering the far west of Uzbekistan. Unsurprisingly, increased drought from climate change isn’t making anything better. However, Uzbekistan is caught in a bind – it is still the major cotton producing region that it was in Soviet times (it’s the 5th biggest exporter in the world), and while you make improvements to water consumption, there’s no easy way to reverse this completely without dismantling one of the country’s most important industries.

Uzbekistan has essentially given up on rebuilding the Sea, and instead is looking at ways to stop the toxic dust. The government, with UN and World Bank backing, is planting saxaul trees – which are drought and salt resistant – to stabilize the soil on the lakebed. However, it is a slow process, and it won’t create an economy that can replace the lost fishing industry – but it is something.

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