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Societal recognition of the Aral Sea problem

The extensive development of irrigation in the Aral Sea region began on the premise of promising economic advances to support a sharp increase in the living standard of the population. An improved supply of meat and rice, transformation of the region into an all-union flower and vegetable garden, and significant increases in hard currency receipts by the USSR from the sale of cotton and clothing were all envisioned. Against this background of heady optimistic prognoses of agricultural development based on the expansion of irrigated areas, the emergent problems of the Aral Sea and their environmental consequences have been a secondary priority.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, a viewpoint prevailed, initially set forth by A. I. Voiyeikov (1908), that the Aral Sea itself was a blunder of nature and that its existence was absolutely unjustified from the point of view of a rational economy. S. Yu. Geller, a well-known researcher of Central Asia, argued that the use of river waters for irrigation promised higher economic returns than allowing the runoff to proceed to the Aral (Geller 1969). A number of other scientists agreed with him. It should also be noted that water experts from Central Asia proposed a project in the mid-1920s to lower the level of the Aral Sea, with the aim of developing irrigation on the dry sea bed (Buniyatov and Mustafaev 1989). This recommendation was not based on physical-geographical, economic, or sociological studies, or on any special analysis of predicted changes in natural-social interactions in different parts of the Aral region.

Early in the 1970s, works began to appear that suggested that changes in the natural environment of the Aral area were significant and that recommended that several cubic kilometres of river water be supplied to preserve the deltas (Kliukanova and Kuznetsov 1971). The first projects for the partial salvation of the Aral Sea proposed disaggregation of the sea into individual water basins, with manageable water and salt regimes (L'vovich and Tsigel'naya 1978). By the middle of the 1970s, many scientists were concerned about the future of the Aral Sea and its region. This was reflected in the papers presented to the All-Union Working Meeting, organized by the Institute of Geography of the (then) USSR Academy of Sciences, addressing the impacts of inter-basin transfers of river runoff (Gerasimov 1975). Headed by I. P. Gerasimov, the Ad Hoc Scientific-Technical Commission of the USSR State Committee on Science and Technology worked in 1975 to assess the impacts of changes in the level of the Aral Sea on the environment and economy of the surrounding region. The Commission noted two opposing viewpoints on the Aral problem: (1) a fall in the sea level was unavoidable and would not have any serious negative consequences; (2) a fall in the sea level would be accompanied by important ecological and economic losses, and therefore stabilization of the sea level at the highest possible level was necessary.

In December 1975, the Bureau of the Interdepartmental Scientific-Technical Council on Complex Problems of Environmental Protection, USSR State Committee on Science and Technology, considered the report of this Commission in which a decline in the sea level was linked with irretrievable consumption of water on newly irrigated land. The report stated that far-reaching adverse changes in the environment and regional economy should be expected if mitigatory measures were not undertaken. Still it is apparent that, at that time, most researchers did not comprehend the possible consequences of further irrigation developments and sealevel fall.

Early in the 1980s, more and more scientists began to recognize the urgency and complexity of the situation and tried to identify possible solutions. Taking part in the work of an Expert Commission, the USSR State Planning Committee examined the complex use of water resources in the Syr Darya river basin. The unpublished report concluded that the ecological and water problems of the region were serious and that the quality of the design, construction, and operation of the irrigation systems was unsatisfactory. Other scientists also protested against the unrestrained expansion of irrigation and cotton monoculture and the widespread use of pesticides. During the work of the Commission, headed by A. L. Yanshin, the Central Asian situation was thoroughly discussed, although most attention focused on the problems associated with irrigation in the southern European territory of the USSR.

At the first recognition of the problems associated with irrigation, and especially with the territorial redistribution of runoff, all open discussion of these problems was forbidden. Publications addressing these problems were few and were allowed only in the classified press. Critical comments on the developing economic situation in the Aral region emerged in the 1970s and early 1980s from members of the Council on the Study of Productive Forces, the State Planning Committee of the USSR, and the Council on the Study of Productive Forces, Academy of Sciences of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. Specialists from the Ministry of Public Health of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic also worked assiduously to assess the medical and sanitary situation in a number of Aral regions.

As a result of the studies performed in 1983, the Soviet Institute of Geography, jointly with the Council on the Study of Productive Forces, the State Planning Committee of the USSR, and the Soyuzgiprovodkhoz, prepared and submitted to the planning bodies and the CPSU Central Committee a special report entitled "Degradation of the Ecosystems of the Aral Sea, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya Deltas, and the Anthropogenous Desertification of the Aral Area Caused by the Irretrievable Withdrawals of Central Asian Rivers' Runoff with the Aim of Intensification of Irrigated Farming." This report analysed environmental changes and, to a lesser extent, the Aral Sea regional economy. It attempted to assess the economic damage and the social consequences of anthropogenic desertification of the Aral Sea area and the fall in the Aral Sea level. It also proposed a number of priority measures to save the region. Viewing this document from the vantage point of the present, we must emphasize that, in spite of the limited range of questions considered and the controversial character of certain statements, the report was the first complete and searching discussion of the essence of problems arising in the Aral Sea area. Unfortunately, only N. F. Vasilyev, the Minister of Reclamation and Water Economy, responded. It was a negative comment, supplemented by a statement signed by a number of academicians and corresponding members of the All-Union Agricultural Academy engaged in water reclamation and water economy, who argued for the further expansion of irrigation in the region.

In April 1987, the Governmental Commission on the Ecological Situation in the Aral Sea Basin was created, headed by Yuriiz A. Izrael. This Commission undertook certain necessary efforts but unfortunately the findings of the Commission were not widely discussed in the scientific community. It is difficult to share the view of the Commission chairman that, owing to the extremely acute ecological and social situation, the Commission members should deliberately avoid wide dissemination of their work. The Commission prepared a report, on the basis of which the CPSU Central Committee (CC) and the USSR Council of Ministers (CM) adopted the Resolution "On Measures of Radical Improvement in the Ecological and Sanitary Situation in the Aral Sea Region, Increase of Effective Uses, and Strengthening the Protection of Water and Land Resources in the Basin." This Resolution stated the serious effects of the use of the water and land resources of the Aral Sea basin and the development of new areas of irrigated lands without taking due account of the ecological and social consequences. A brief characterization of the state of nature and economy of the region was provided, along with proposals to change the natural environment, to restore the ecological balance in the Aral area, and to stimulate the growth of productive forces, including increasing the inflow of river water to the deltas, reconstructing irrigation systems, constructing new water supply facilities, and improving regional medical services.

We should note, however, that the Resolution also suffered from several serious shortcomings. It set forth the reasons for the Aral crisis in only a vague and general form that did not permit the formulation of a clear priority solution for the ecological, social, and economic problems of the region. The Resolution also authorized further growth of irrigated land, and the water volumes envisioned for discharge to the deltas and to the Aral Sea were completely insufficient to solve the ecological problems. Whether even this small amount of water would arrive is doubtful because the Resolution failed to specify the sources from which this water should be obtained. It also failed to make any water assignments to different regions of the basin to ensure an ecological flush.

Social democratization after 1985, and the abrogation of restrictions on scientific works analysing ecological, social, and economic problems, encouraged more extensive discussions of the Aral Sea problems. The Uzbek and Kazakh Committees for Saving the Aral were created, and numerous scientific and public conferences were held annually in different cities in the region. Public recognition of the problem occurred with the Aral-88 Expedition, organized by the Novy Mir and Pamir magazines. Participants in the expedition - writers, scientists, journalists - travelled throughout the Aral region and met with the public authorities of republics, districts, and regions, the local population, ministers, agricultural and water economy specialists, physicians, and representatives of grass-roots ecological movements. As a result of this expedition, an address was prepared and sent to the government which contained an analysis of the critical situation in the Aral area. It was accompanied by an appeal for urgent action to solve the ecological and social problems of the region. The indisputable authority of the well-known scientists, writers, and journalists who took part in the expedition and signed the appeal drew governmental attention to the Aral problem once again. An important result of the expedition was to alert public officials to the real situation and its causes.

"Aral Days" were held in the Central Club of Writers and in the editorial offices of some magazines and newspapers in Moscow where writers, scientists, and public figures voiced concern. The "Days" were organized by the Uzbek Public Committee for Saving the Aral, by the Kazakh Public Committee on Aral and Balkhash Problems, and by the International Movement of Poets "20th Century, World, and Ecology."

Late in 1989 a group of participants in the popular Aral movement addressed the Second Congress of People's Deputies of the USSR and also the Politbureau of the CPSU CC, the USSR Supreme Soviet, and the USSR Council of Ministers with an appeal to confront the Aral ecological crisis. The number of popular articles on the Aral problem had also sharply increased (Kaipbergenov 1989; Kotlyakov 1991; Selyunin 1989). Meanwhile, the Aral Sea problem began to attract the attention of foreign researchers. The most complete review of the problem using Soviet sources is that of Micklin (1988).

The Aral problem has been discussed at numerous meetings, including "Problems of the Aral Sea and the Aral Area" (June 1989), the meeting of the Uzbek "Man and Biosphere" National Committee (Bakhretdinov and Chembarisov 1989), the scientific symposium, "Working Out a Conception of Social-Economic Development of the Amu Darya Lower Reaches (the Aral Area) as a Special Economic Zone," in Shavat (1989), the International Symposium in Nukus (1990), and a number of other subsequent conferences and meetings. In the USSR Academy of Sciences, the Aral Sea problems were also discussed in depth by scientific councils of the Institute of Geography and the Institute of Water Problems at the end of 1989.

In the 1988 Resolution of the CPSU CC and USSR CM, a decision was taken to create an Institute of Water and Ecological Problems of the Aral Basin, USSR Academy of Sciences, in the city of Nukus. During 1988-1991 an international project was established by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Institute of Geography of the USSR Academy of Sciences, and the Centre for International Projects of the USSR Ministry of the Environment. The goal of the project was to analyse the situation in the Aral Sea region and to consider the possibility of undertaking other international projects. Meanwhile, several proposals have appeared for solving the Aral Sea problem (Glazovsky 1990b; Osnovnye... 1991). The Aral Sea and basin, with Chernobyl, are now recognized in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States as zones of ecological calamity.

Thus, at least three periods can be distinguished in the history of growing societal awareness of the Aral problem. The first period (the 1960s to mid-1970s) involved a lack of attention to the problems associated with the widespread development of irrigation in the region. The Aral Sea was, in short, to be sacrificed. The second period (the early 1970s to mid-1980s) saw a gradually growing perception by scientists of the acute ecological situation arising in the Aral Sea area. These scientists identified initiatives to improve the situation. The roots of the crisis, however, were not assessed even in the most objective works. Only the Aral Sea area proper was considered, and the measures suggested pertained only to relatively specific problems. In fact, hydrotechnical construction continued to aim at the maximum expansion of irrigation. Objective analysis of the problem by the press was limited and often forbidden. The third period (the mid-1980s to the present) witnessed growing scientific recognition of both the general and the specific causes of the Aral crisis and broad public discussion of the Aral problems. Public committees for the salvation of the Aral Sea were created. Continuous changes in the positions of some political representatives and public authorities of the Central Asian republics, ministers, ministries, agencies, and reclamation bureaux occurred during this time. Although emphasis initially focused on the further development of irrigation, more recent communications and statements have recognized the necessity of restricting irrigation.

Despite the recognized value of the wide and open public discussion of the Aral Sea crisis, some negative features have accompanied the growing popularity of the issue. Unfortunately the Aral Sea crisis is sometimes used for political purposes. With social democratization, some people have used this problem to enunciate nationalistic demands. Others have sought to make political capital by discussing the Aral problem, while failing to suggest any constructive proposals. Also, numerous solutions of a technocratic nature have been proposed by people who lack the necessary expertise. Unfortunately, the authors of these ideas have often done their best to avoid searching discussion while seeking the support of incompetent authorities for immediate action. One final negative phenomenon, which could be called a "leader's fear syndrome," has involved the adoption of a series of hasty and unsubstantiated scientific decisions, including superficial, if prompt, solutions to this problem aimed at mobilizing public opinion.

Possible solutions and rescue scenarios

The future development of the Aral Sea situation depends on how successfully we manage to solve existing problems and to address the basic causes. An analysis of the essence of the problems that have arisen in the Aral Sea basin reveals two key aspects: (1) the need to solve the social, ecological, and economic problems of the Aral region, and (2) the need to preserve the Aral Sea (Glazovsky 1990a,b). These two aspects are interconnected, of course, but to our mind the problems of preserving the Aral Sea are secondary in both significance and prospective solutions as compared with the more pressing problems of the Aral Sea basin.

Proposed solutions differ in their scientific substance, the character and scope of problems, and the possible time limits for their realization. The top-priority measures should contribute to improving the ecological and life-support conditions of the population in the shortest time possible. Measures that are urgently needed include:

1. The development of a drinking and municipal water supply, first in the Karakalpak autonomous republic and the Kzyl Orda area and later in all other areas of the Aral Sea region. These systems may be based on different water sources: purified groundwater and surface rainfeed waters. Optimal systems of water supply should be designed, depending on such conditions as the presence of potential water sources, the volume and regime of required water consumption, and the quality of natural waters.

2. The construction of sewage systems and sewage-disposal facilities.

3. The cessation of pesticide use, beginning with defoliants and moving to more judicious use of chemical fertilizers. With the existing high inputs of manual labour in cotton harvesting, a solution to this problem should help to reduce human health impacts.

4. The creation of a network of modern medical institutions.

5. Supplying high-quality food products to the populations through increased product-quality control and improved organization of food assistance.

6. More effective information on sanitary, hygienic, and ecological issues.

Implementation of these measures would do much to stabilize the population's health.

A solution to the Aral problems will require, at least during the first stage, the introduction of modern technologies and methods. To this end, an international fund(s) to rescue the Aral Sea region should be created. Such a fund, with the participation of international, state, and public organizations, private companies, and individual persons, is possible if two conditions are met: the tasks to be solved must be clearly defined, and the political will must be present. These measures would facilitate the solution of a number of important problems existing in the Aral Sea region but would not eliminate the deep-seated causes of the crisis. Therefore, strategic long-term measures are also necessary.

If most scientists and practitioners agree on the necessity of short-term measures to improve ecological conditions, mid-term and long-term measures can be subjected to differing assessments. To define scenarios for the further development of the situation, we must briefly address the basic strategic proposals for solutions to the Aral Sea crisis. The greatest bone of contention concerns the strategy of economic development of the Aral Sea basin. There are two main viewpoints, which differ in principle. The first conception assumes that the future development of the Aral region should be based on the expansion of irrigated farming. The proponents of this view point to what they regard as favourable climatic conditions (warm climate, abundance of sunny days, a long growing season), which, together with water, allow irrigated land to yield a great biological productivity. Crops such as cotton, rice, and subtropical varieties are possible that cannot be cultivated in more northerly regions of the former Soviet Union. This scenario of development corresponds to the traditions of the Aral Sea regional economy where, as emphasized above, irrigated farming developed over several thousand years and has been an important long-term component of the economy. It is presumed that, in the future, irrigated farming will absorb the surplus labour resources of the region. It is also argued that irrigated farming would feed the rapidly growing population of the Aral Sea basin. Many water experts and a number of regional political leaders, especially in Uzbek, support this point of view.

To this author, such a developmental path would aggravate many existing ecological, social, and economic problems and would prove ultimately to be a blind alley. Most of the potentially productive land in the Aral Sea basin is already cultivated. Therefore, new irrigation development would bring into production land with less favourable soil conditions, much of it located at long distances from water sources. Therefore, capital investments to construct irrigation systems and expenditures for their operation would be even higher. Thus, the cost of the products from this newly irrigated land could be much higher than present costs. This tendency was observed at earlier stages of irrigation development. The extensive development of irrigation would also intensify existing environmental problems since this new irrigated land would introduce millions of tons of currently immobile salts. As shown above, irrigation development has already led to an intensification of regional salt migration and a change in the salt budget in the region. What is to be done with the immense mass of salts that would be removed from irrigated lands by drainage runoff?

Finally, since the water resources of the basin are practically exhausted owing to extensive irrigation, further expansion of irrigated land would be possible (with existing irrigation technologies) only by importing water into the basin, perhaps from the runoff of Siberian rivers. The issue of river reversals has stimulated much debate in Russia. The main arguments of the opponents are still germane:

• the economic and social effectiveness of river reversal has not been proved,

• there is no scientifically substantiated prediction of environmental changes, both in the regions of water withdrawal and in those to which the water would flow.

In particular, the proposed withdrawal of 25 km≥/year (and the prospect of up to 60 km≥/year) of water from the Ob river would change the expanse and duration of flood-plain inundation. This, in turn, would affect commercial fish reserves and the thermal and ice regime of the Ob river. The boundary of mixed river and sea water would be displaced, and the glacial situation in the southern part of the Kara Sea would also change. Water filtration from the reversal canal would cause landscape transformation in the zone near the canal. At the same time, extensive irrigation development in the Aral region would predetermine the further development of raw materials sources in the region, an important issue because the available large reserves for agricultural intensification have not thus far been used.

Cultivation of new irrigated land and the runoff from reversal of the Siberian rivers would require enormous capital expenditure, in the order of 100 billion roubles according to 1991 estimates. In fact, as the experience of implementing large projects in Russia has shown, several times this amount should be expected. Given the present economic state of these countries, such enormous expenditure of material resources is foolish. Such a development would pre-empt necessary investments in the social sphere, in the reconstruction of the water economy and agriculture, and in the creation of a processing industry in the Aral Sea region. This strategy also presumes the disappearance of the Aral Sea, since nearly all additional water arriving in the region would be allocated to irrigation. Assumptions that irrigated farming would provide jobs for the growing population of the Aral region are also not justified. Analysis shows that, during recent years, in spite of an expansion in irrigated lands, the numbers of those working in agriculture has not increased, while the share of agricultural employment has declined (fig. 3.7). The existing outmoded irrigation technologies assumed by this strategy do not allow for human progress and the well-being of those working in agriculture.

The Aral Sea basin trajectory

This volume has a central concern with regional environmental trajectories. Trajectories of the Aral Sea region are presented in figure 3.8. With intensified, irrigated agriculture, the ecological and economic situation will certainly continue to deteriorate. Human health could improve, however, with imported food products, water, and a better system of medical care. As an alternative, we propose a different strategy to solve the Aral problem (Glazovsky 1990b), one that appears to be gaining supporters. It is, however, not widely recognized, and many scientists and politicians prefer the traditional approach.

We believe that a long-term plan for a change in the strategy for developing productive forces in the Aral Sea basin is the most efficient approach to solving the social, economic, and ecological problems in an integrated way. The economic efficiency of water reclamation has often been overestimated. Thus, calculations of efficiency have not taken into account the prior hydroreclamation and crop yields (i.e. calculations have been based not on marginal increases in productivity but on overall gross productivity). Priority needs for natural resources, better technology, and fertilizers for irrigated land have not been taken into account. Efficiency estimates have been distorted because they have been based on overall costs and not on incremental gains in productivity. Thus, real data do not confirm the prevailing view of the high efficiency of farming in Central Asia. The real cost of grain in Russia, the Ukraine, and Byelorussia is 2-3 times lower than that in Central Asia; the cost of vegetables in Russia is about the same, while the Ukraine and (especially) Byelorussia have much lower costs than does Central Asia.

One of the important arguments favouring a new extensive development of irrigation in Central Asia turns on the necessity of cotton production and its effectiveness. Is it possible to decrease cotton production without damaging the regional economy? Part of the cotton production goes to meet military needs. With the dramatic changes in the international political situation and the replacement of cotton with synthetic materials, cotton production for military purposes could be significantly reduced. Recent estimates suggest that 30-80 per cent of the cotton consumed in the former USSR for industrial and household uses could be replaced by synthetic fibres. The United States has traditionally spent 4-5 times less on cotton for these purposes than has the former USSR (Safayev 1982).

Fig. 3.7 Persons engaged in agriculture in Uzbekistan, 1960-1990 (Source: Uzbekistan, 1988, and author's own estimates)

Fig. 3.8 Trajectories of nature-society relationships in the Aral Sea basin

A significant part of the cotton is needed to supply cloth, clothing, and export earnings. At the same time, the production of cotton fabrics in other countries shows that, in most developed capitalist countries, the annual production of cotton fabrics per capita is half that of the former USSR. Significant production of textiles in the Aral region could be justified if exports of clothes and textiles from the Commonwealth of Independent States increased sharply. Unfortunately, between 1965 and 1985 exports of cotton textiles from the former USSR fell from 272 to 163 million metres, whereas imports increased from 95 to 419 million metres.

The share of cotton and cotton textiles in exports from the former USSR decreased during 1960-1985 from 6.1 per cent to 1.2 per cent, whereas that of clothes and other textile products fell from 0.17 per cent to 0.026 per cent of the total export volume. By selling raw materials and not the manufactured product, the republics of the Aral Sea region have lost an enormous potential profit. Modern textile production and clothing factories, at an improved level, would ensure continuing demand, while increased efficiency would also reduce water consumption.

One of the ways to solve the social problems in the Aral region would be to increase the production of consumer goods. Currently, there is a great imbalance between the output of goods and demand. Annual production of consumer goods per capita amounted to 472 roubles in Uzbekistan in 1987, including 180 roubles in the Karakalpak autonomous republic, yet the mean monthly salary of collective farmers is 132 roubles, and workers and employees earn 170 roubles (Uzbekistan 1988). Therefore, the production of consumer goods should entail the employment of people and assist in the solution of social problems in the Aral Sea region. Housing construction should be greatly expanded since the availability of houses in the republics of the Aral region is not only inadequate but even worse than in Russia.

The mining and processing industry should also be developed. In doing so, mistakes should not be repeated. Rather the most profitable processing of raw materials should be undertaken but with care for ecological requirements. The development of an electronics industry should also be considered. Development of these important branches of industry would be important since they would guarantee increases in the professional and cultural level of the workers. Such initiatives should also ensure structural and technological diversity in agriculture.

Unproductive salinized land that entails immense water use should be withdrawn from irrigation. Even if only 5 per cent of the least suitable land were withdrawn, water consumption savings would reach 7 km≥ per year. It might be advisable to withdraw even larger areas on the basis of ecological and economic considerations, because about 15 per cent of irrigated land in the Aral basin is in an extremely unsatisfactory condition. This could lead to savings in the order of 1520 km≥ of water per year or more.

It should be emphasized that withdrawing land from irrigation should proceed hand-in-hand with the solution of social problems. New work places should be created, while the most ecologically unfavourable sites should be eliminated. People and enterprises should be compensated for losses connected with the cessation of irrigation and the restructuring of the regional economy. Without this withdrawal of land from irrigation, difficulties will continue. It will also be necessary to develop new uses for land where irrigation is terminated.

Irrigation systems on the remaining land will need to be reconstructed and their efficiency improved. Reducing the filtration of water from canals would make it possible to free at least 10-20 km≥ of water. Improvements in land use would make it possible to decrease the washing standards, and thus to obtain several additional cubic km of water per year. irrigation reconstruction should also cause land productivity to rise. About 3 km≥ of water could be gained by replacing rice with other crops. Revising irrigation standards in accordance with scientific recommendations and the experience of advanced economies with improved irrigation technologies could deliver between 10 and 20 km≥ of water per year. The introduction of modern methods of watering and systems of water management could increase this figure by 20-30 km≥. Implementation of all these measures would save about another 40 km≥ of water per year.

The most promising means of drainage runoff utilization is re-use of the water for irrigation or discharge after biological improvement of rivers and creation of a cascade system of farming. These utilizations of drainage runoff could be combined. Salt is a very serious problem. The possibility of using salts as a raw material for a chemical industry and also to develop a technology of residual brines should be explored.

A solution to the problem of water conservation in agriculture in Central Asia depends, of course, not only on water management and reclamation measures. The introduction of less water-consuming agricultural plants is essential. Water saving is also necessary in other branches of the economy. To improve agricultural productivity, conserve soil fertility, and reduce the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, crop rotation is necessary. Some increases in water consumption may occur since some crops (e.g. alfalfa) that are usually necessarily present in crop rotation on irrigated land in Central Asia require more water than cotton. And certainly vegetable and grape production on irrigated lands of the Aral Sea basin should be increased.

Concerning the preservation of the Aral Sea, two basic points of view prevail. Some politicians, heads of ministries, and scientists believe that the Aral Sea is not needed. As an argument, they provide calculations of the economic efficiency of Aral Sea use (for fisheries, other bioresources, transport development, and recreation) and also an estimate of losses connected with the environmental changes (e.g. climate, salt transportation, groundwater). They then compare the economic profit to be gained by capturing the Amu Darya and Syr Darya runoff to the Aral Sea for irrigation with adverse environmental impacts. What are the drawbacks of such an assessment approach?

First, it is difficult to evaluate losses connected with environmental impacts, because this question has been little studied in the Commonwealth of Independent States. To preserve the Aral as a single water basin at a sea level of 40+ metres and an area of about 40,000 km≤, and allowing for a water discharge for evaporation of about 35 km≥/ year, stabilization of the sea level requires that 35-38 km≥ of water per year arrive in the sea. With a developmental strategy for the regional economy based on advanced development of industrial processing and reconstruction of the water economy, these volumes of water appear possible. Since not all the proposed measures can be implemented, one must assume that some fall in the level of the Aral Sea is unavoidable. Therefore, a general strategy for rescuing the Aral should aim at stabilizing the level and then restoring the necessary long-term level.

According to recent estimates, the cost of restoring environmental quality will amount to several tens of billions of roubles (in 1990 prices). The approximate distribution of the necessary investment is as follows:

• reconstruction of irrigation systems 25-30 billion roubles
• measures to prevent the inflow of polluted drainage water to rivers 1.6-3 billion roubles
• introduction of new irrigation technologies and new kinds of plants 6-10 billion roubles
• stabilization of the desiccated sea floor 0.5-1 billion roubles

If we also take into account the measures necessary to improve the sanitary/hygienic and communal conditions of life and the medical services, and the need for new work places and changes in the structure of the economy, the required expenditure would exceed 100 billion roubles.

Thus, a sound strategy for the Aral Sea region will take account of potential trajectories of the situation (fig. 3.8). These trajectories are, we emphasize, hypothetical and in the spirit of the discussion in chapter 1 and like those of chapter 5. They are not based upon quantitative assessments or projections.

Saving the Aral Sea

The Aral Sea crisis is a disaster that involves the degradation of ecosystems in the Aral basin, a deterioration in human health, economic decline, a growth in social tensions, and a drying up of the Aral Sea itself, with an increase in its salinity and a degradation of its formerly integrated water ecosystem. It is the clearest example of a "critical region" presented in this volume. Among the reasons for the crisis are blunders in the choice of the developmental strategy for the region's productive forces, serious errors in designing, constructing, and operating irrigation systems, and the ill-considered chemicalization of agriculture. Societal reaction to the crisis has evolved over time, at first halting and repressed but growing to a crescendo in recent years.

A portfolio of measures of varying scope and priority is required. First, it is necessary to elaborate and implement priority measures to improve life expectancy and human health, and municipal water supply systems must also be constructed. Sewage-treatment facilities are also desperately needed. Pesticide use should be curtailed, and the discharge of contaminated drainage waters should cease. Medical services must be greatly improved and a secure food supply developed for the population. To ensure the supply of medical items and high-quality food for the population, to introduce modern technologies, and to improve scientific research, funds must be created to rescue the Aral Sea region.

Mid-term measures (2-10 years) should include the reconstruction of irrigation systems, water supply, better use of drainage runoff, the introduction of new agricultural and technologies, changes in the structure of agricultural production, and the introduction of new special and free-trade economic zones. Long-term measures (designed for 1015 years) should include a change in the developmental strategy for productive forces, economic diversification, and governmental improvements. The long-term period is defined largely by the scope of the proposed changes, the scale of the capital investment required, and the necessity for in-depth scientific investigations.

An acceptable approach to the preservation of the Aral Sea is impossible without a detailed assessment of the ecological requirements of the Aral Sea, a precise understanding of the salt sea budget, sound predictions of regional climatic changes, and assessments of the various schemes put forth for saving the Aral Sea. Any specification of social and economic requirements for the Aral Sea should be made only after wide discussion of these problems and full consideration of the aspirations of the venous peoples of the Aral Sea area, whose history and ways of life are intimately linked with the sea, and the expenditures needed to realize their hopes.


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