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Social and economic changes

Increases in morbidity

Deteriorating environmental quality as a result of irrigation development and the chemicalization of agriculture has contributed to increased sickness in the population. The overall illness trends are not encouraging. In Uzbekistan, for the period 1980-1987, for example, the number of hospitalized people increased from 21.8 to 26.3 per 100 people, including a change from 20.2 to 24.9 in the Karakalpak Republic.

The data on medical examinations reveal a growing number of cases of gall-bladder and gallstone disease, chronic gastritis, nephritis, and oesophageal cancer. According to V. Selyunin (1989), para-typhoid morbidity in the Karakalpak Republic is 23 times higher than the average in other republics of the USSR. Since the middle of the 1970s in some regions, the mortality rate has increased 15 times, cardiovascular morbidity 6 times, tuberculosis 6 times, gallbladder and gallstone disease 5 times, and oesophageal cancer 7-10 times. Between 1984 and 1989 in the Kzyl Orda area on the lower reaches of the Syr Darya river, typhoid morbidity increased 20 times. Although a precise allocation of disease causation, including that attributable to ecological degradation, is not possible at this time, it is likely that child mortality rates reflect not only inadequate medical attention but environmental deterioration as well.

In certain regions of the Aral Sea area, and particularly in the Bozataus region of the Karakalpak Republic, infant mortality rates exceed 110 per 1,000 newborn, a rate higher than that of Thailand (88), Mexico (82), Costa Rica (78), Jordan (75), Colombia (74), Syria (73), and many other countries (Novy Mir 1989). At the 1989 seminar "Problems of the Aral Sea and Aral Area," it was noted that 60 per cent of the children examined in Nukus and 64 per cent in Karakalpak Republic showed some health problems. In Uzbekistan, 2$0,000 cases of infectious hepatitis were recorded in 1987 (Novy Mir 1989). The Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan and Kirghizia have the highest level of infant mortality observed in the USSR. In most of these republics an absolute growth in the infant death rate was apparent between 1970 and 1985 (table 3.9). In all the other republics (with the exception of Moldavia), infant mortality rates declined during this same period. One might assume that an increased level of infant mortality is connected with insufficient medical examination of mothers and children and worsening medical service, but analyses do not confirm this assumption.

The inadequate development of the water supply and sewerage systems has greatly aggravated ecological criticality in the Aral Sea basin. Thus the centralized water supply in the lower reaches of the Syr Darya in the Kzyl Orda area of Kazakhstan provides water for only 65 per cent of the population, and in Karakalpakia for only 33 per cent. Sampling of water sources in the Aral Sea basin reveals that the quality of piped water does not meet state bacterial standards in 25-47 per cent of cases. About 90 per cent of the rural population of the Aral Sea basin obtain their spring and summer water from the irrigation network. Only the largest cities of the basin have sewage systems, and these cover only an insignificant part of the territory in these cities.

Table 3.9 Infant mortality, 1960-1987 (the number of children who died at age 1 or less per 1,000 of newborn)

Country/republic 1960 1970 1980 1985 1986 1987
USSR - 24.7 27.3 26.0 25.4 25.5
Russian Federation - 23.0 22.1 20.7 19.3 -
Uzbekistan - 31.0 47.0 45.3 46.2 -
Kazakhstan - 25.9 32.7 30.1 29.0 -
Kirghizstan - 45.4 43.3 41.9 38.2 -
Tadzhikistan - 45.9 58.1 46.8 46.7 -
Turkmenistan - 46.1 53.6 52.4 58.2 -
Bulgaria 45.1 27.3 20.2 15.4 14.6 -
Hungary 47.6 35.9 23.2 20.4 19.0 -
GDR 38.8 18.5 12.1 9.6 9.2 -
Cuba - 38.7 19.6 16.5 13.6 -
Poland 54.8 33.4 21.3 18.4 17.3 -
Czechoslovakia 23.5 22.1 18.4 14.0 13.9 -

Source: Uzbekistan (1988).

Table 3.10 Number of hospital beds for pregnant women and those in childbirth, 1960-1987 (per 1.000 women)

Republic 1960 1970 1980 1987
Russian Federation 1.73 1.56 1.53 1.53
Uzbekistan 2.06 2.21 2.45 2.53
Tadzhikistan 1.38 1.97 2.08 2.39
Turkmenistan 2.16 2.55 2.71 2.70

Source: Uzbekistan (1988).

Table 3.11 Number of births per year per bed in hospitals for pregnant women and those in childbirth, 1965-1986

Republic 1965 1970 1986
Russian Federation 16.9 17.2 21.0
Uzbekistan 32.8 29.6 29.5
Tadzhikistan 43.7 34.8 34.8
Turkmenistan 37.4 27.1 27.0

The supply of hospital beds for pregnant women and those in childbirth in the Central Asian republics is higher than that in Russia, and this supply has been increasing in comparison with Russia (table 3.10). The pressure represented by number of births per bed in maternity homes, though higher than in Russia, abated during 1965 to 1986 (table 3.11). Meanwhile, the number of children's clinics grew 2.6 times in Turkmenia between 1970 and 1986, 2.9 times in Tadzhikistan, and 3.5 times in Uzbekistan.

Changes in agricultural production

Environmental deterioration negatively affects agricultural production, including that on irrigated land, much of which becomes salinized. Irrigation experience over many years suggests that even slight soil salinization decreases cotton yields by 10-15 per cent, moderate salinization by 30-40 per cent, and severe salinization by 50-60 per cent (Kurbanov 1988). B. G. Rozanov (1984) shows that increases of up to 1 per cent in the salt content of the ploughed-up layer of irrigated soil decreases crop production by one-third. When the salt content reaches 2-3 per cent, the crop is completely damaged. Estimates suggest that agricultural production is 30 per cent lower in Uzbekistan, 18 per cent lower in Tadzhikistan, and 20 per cent lower in Kirghizia as a result of soil salinization (Khakimov 1989).

Reductions in agricultural production are also connected with desertification, which arises in delta regions with changes in runoff associated with irrigation development. Climatic changes in the Aral area have also affected agricultural output. Environmental deterioration has led to direct losses. The productivity of irrigated lands in the Bostanlyk region in the middle part of the Syr Darya basin, for example, first increased during 19661988, from 536 to 1,126 roubles/ha, but later decreased to 951 roubles/ha. Meanwhile, governmental expenditures grew from 380 to 720 roubles/ha. Indeed, increases in costs exceeded production gains (Voropayev, Ismaiylov, and Fedorov 1984). In the Gyaur region of Turkmenia, production from a hectare of irrigated land declined from 2,000-2,500 roubles to 1,500 roubles (and less) between 1978 and 1984 (Kuleshov 1985). In the Karakalpak Republic, labour productivity in agriculture decreased by 11 per cent, while the gross product per hectare of irrigated fields plummeted between 1970 and 1985. This trend is typical of many regions in the Aral Sea area.

Increases in mineralization and changes in the composition of irrigation water affect both the amount and quality of the product. Thus, increases in the sulphate-ion content in irrigation waters affect the composition of protein in the grain. As a result, the gross production of raw cotton in the Central Asian republics has not (with the exception of Tadzhikistan) grown in recent years and in most republics has even decreased since 1980 (fig. 3.5) in spite of an expansion of irrigation. Cotton production initially increased in Turkmenia but by 1986 had declined to 1950 levels.

Cotton quality has also deteriorated. From the late 1950s to the early 1980s the specific gravity of the first and second qualities of raw cotton decreased from 70 per cent to 40 per cent in the total volume of production (Safayev 1982, 77). Decreases in yields are typical of other crops that are cultivated on irrigated land in the Aral Sea area (see, for example, fig. 3.6). Economic indices of agricultural production also reveal significant decreases (table 3.12).

In the Syr Darya and Amu Darya deltas, desertification began as a result of decreases in runoff. Reed thickets became dry in shallow lakes, and more than 1 million hectares of flood plains dried up, including 280,000 ha in the lower reaches of the Amu Darya and 20,000 ha in the lower reaches of the Syr Darya river. The crop capacity of reed communities decreased from 34 tonnes/ha to 0.007-0.13 tonnes/ha (Novikova 1985). In the lower reaches of the Syr Darya, 114,000 ha of alluvial-meadow soils were decertified by 1978 and became solonchaks, 552,000 ha of swamp and meadow-swamp soils dried up, 31,000 ha were decertified, and 55,000 ha were transformed into solonchaks. Thus, about 752,000 ha in total were withdrawn from agricultural rotation (Gerasimov et al. 1983), while the productivity of pastures and hay areas shrank from 3-4 to 1.3-1.5 t/ha.

Total fodder reserves, meanwhile, declined by 1,200 tons and the productivity of cereal-forte and forte meadows decreased threefold. Reserves of medicinal plants also decreased, including licorice and sweet root (Novikova 1985). Muskrat production has largely disappeared in the Aral area: from 70,000-230,000 skins in 1950-1960, to 9,000 in 1968, and to 72 in 1978.

As a result of growing airborne salt transport, salt sedimentation on plants, including mulberry, has occurred. This may explain the reduction in purchases of mulberry cocoons in the Karakalpak Republic. In 19811985, 1,005 cocoons were purchased annually; by 1985-1987 the figure had dropped to 915-941 (Uzbekistan 1988).

Fig. 3.5 Cotton production in Uzbekistan, 1960-1987 (Source: Uzbekistan, 1988, and author's own estimates)

Reduced pasture lands and declining pasture productivity have negatively affected the number of sheep and goats and, correspondingly, the production of wool and astrakhan (tables 3.13 and 3.14).

Fisheries, meanwhile, have ceased to exist in the Aral area. Formerly about 40,000-60,000 tons of fish per year were taken. In the Kazakhstan area of the Aral Sea and in the delta of Syr Darya, there were formerly 2 fishery bases, 1 Aral fish enterprise, 8 fish plants, and 19 collective fish farms. Earlier, 61,000 workers were involved in the production and processing of fish. Currently only 1,800 people still work in the fish industry (on both imported and lake fish). A similar picture prevails in the Karakalpak part of the Aral Sea basin, where the Muinak fish cannery continues to operate on imported ocean fish of low grade. Currently, fisheries operate only on the remaining lakes and deltas. Since the waters of these wastewater lakes are polluted, the quality of fish products is often unsatisfactory.

Fig. 3.6 Vegetable and fruit/berry production in Uzbekistan, 1970-1987 (Source: Uzbekistan, 1988, and author's own estimates)

Table 3.12 Change in agricultural prices, 1965-1986 (roubles per ton)

  Raw cotton Vegetables
Republic 1965 1975 1986 1965 1975 1986
Kazakhstan 309 352 480 115 143 185
Kirghizstan 199 432 651 97 108 152
Uzbekistan 288 447 550 83 98 130
Tadzhikistan 275 453 624 56 109 127
Turkmenistan 381 483 650 120 166 180

Source: Uzbekistan (1988).

Table 3.13 Number of sheep and goats in Uzbekistan, 1971-1988 (for all categories of farms: '000 head)

Type Republic 1971 1981 1986 1987 1988
All sheep and goats Uzbekistan 7,977.7 8,961.9 9,256.3 8,832.1 8,539.9
Karakalpak 470.4 587.1 606.9 523.9 478.3
Khorezmenia 257.1 100.2 163.9 151.6 138.4
Astrakhan sheep Uzbekistan 5,072.1 5,312.9 5,245.5 4,914.1 4,751.2
Karakalpak 288.7 467.2 463.9 378.5 342.8
Khorezmenia 253.4 93.9 162.0 150.0 128.8

Source: Uzbekistan (1988).

Table 3.14 Average annual wool and astrakhan production in Uzbekistan, 1971-1987

Type Republic 1971-1975 1976-1980 1981-1985 1986 1987
Wool production (tons) Uzbekistan 16,085 19,047 24,097 23,541 24,347
Karakalpak 1,215 1,488 2,172 1,827 1,730
Khorezmenia 484 324 495 506 477
Astrakhan production ('000 skins) Uzbekistan 2,274.1 2,329.6 2,308.8 1,640.6 1,380.5
Karakalpak 111.0 166.8 163.4 132.5 125.2
Khorezmenia 63.2 8.7 8.2 11.9 10.5

Source: Uzbekistan (1988).

Finally, because of rising groundwater and salinization of soils, flooding of the foundations of buildings has occurred, accompanied by a rise of capillary water along the foundations and walls, salt sedimentation, and even the destruction of buildings. A number of cultural monuments are also threatened in Karakalpakia, Uzbekistan (Khiva), and Turkmenia.

Economic losses

Various estimates exist of economic losses in the Aral Sea basin connected with irrigation development and declines in sea levels. Researchers at the Institute of Water Problems, USSR Academy of Sciences (Problems of the Aral Sea 1973), project a decrease in annual gross income of 15-30 million roubles as a result of changes in the Aral Sea. The researchers conclude that comparison of these losses with irrigation effects shows the contradictions between using the Syr Darya and Amu Darya waters for irrigation and maintaining the inflow to the Aral Sea, thereby protecting economic uses of the sea. At 1980 levels, the annual losses in only the lower reaches of Amu Darya amounted to at least 92.6 million roubles (Gerasimov et al. 1983).

In our view, the total damage to nature and the regional economy should also include the cost of measures taken to mitigate the consequences of the Aral crisis. By current estimates, the cost of these measures is at least 37 billion roubles. This figure, and not 30-100 million roubles, should be recognized as the overall economic damage to the region. Real economic losses are likely to be even higher, because of lost agricultural production and losses connected with the deterioration in human health and associated medical compensation.

Reasons for the Aral ecological crisis

The geosystems of the Aral Sea region, which were in a state of dynamic equilibrium up to the 1960s, have become destabilized owing to the new, extensive development of irrigation and the intensive chemicalization of agriculture. Natural systems have been subjected to significant changes that have led, on the whole, to decreases in their biological productivity and to negative effects on environmental quality. As a result, population morbidity and child mortality have increased and agricultural production has declined. In some respects (e.g. gross output and crop areas), the economy has remained stable, but this stability has been achieved only through the continuing expansion of irrigated land. Thus, a peculiar "creeping stability" of the economic systems has occurred, supported by the continuing degradation or "draw-down" of the natural environment described in chapter 1. This stability is, thus, illusory. One may distinguish the following reasons for the Aral Sea crisis:

1. An inapt strategy of dislocating productive forces. This is the most important cause of the long-term negative effects on the environment, economy, and social relations. The strategy of dislocating productive forces oriented to a water economy has led to extremely negative consequences and to the creation of an ecological crisis in the Aral Sea basin.

2. Cultivation of low-productivity, marginal lands. Extensive irrigation development has led to the cultivation of land whose productivity is difficult to sustain owing to high salinization, heavy soils, and unfavourable hydrogeological and geomorphological conditions. It is on such land that irrigation has demonstrated such negative ecological consequences, particularly secondary soil salinization and the formation of great salt drainage runoff. The Adyrs of the Fergana valley are an example of such land.

3. An ill-conceived locational strategy for agricultural crops. The most serious error has been the enormous expansion of fields with water-based crops, rice in particular. The introduction of monocultures (and in particular cotton) has also caused much damage, since monocultural agriculture requires heavy use of chemical fertilizers and herbicides.

4. The poor quality of the design, construction, and operation of irrigation systems. This is the primary reason for the negative ecological consequences.

5. Approval of higher irrigation and water diversion standards. In all republics of the Aral Sea region, and especially in Kazakhstan, a significant over-discharge of water for irrigation has occurred.

6. Insufficient scientific substantiation of the irrigation standards. Existing standards fail to take into account the peculiarities of soils and agricultural crops, often while aiming at maximum but not necessarily most productive uses.

7. Lack of scientific assessment of alternative development strategies. This has occurred for both the regional economy and its potential effects on the natural environment.

8. Insufficient discussion of problems arising in the Aral Sea region. A deficiency that is apparent among both scientists and the public. (Glazovsky 1990b)

Environmental deterioration, population change, and economic developments in the Aral Sea region have important spatial differentiation in their effects. Here we focus on only the very general features of this differentiation. The dynamics of nature and the economy in different parts of the Aral region show the ecological situation to be better in the upper reaches of the river basins of Central Asia than in the lower ones. Decreases in runoff, environmental pollution, and the degradation of natural ecosystems are most apparent in the Syr Darya and Amu Darya deltas. Social and economic indicators reveal a similar distribution. Infant mortality in Kirghizia and Tadzhikistan and in the upper parts of river basins of Central Asia is low, whereas in Uzbekistan and Turkmenia, and especially in the middle and upper parts of the river basins, it is much higher. Crop fields for cotton, vegetables, and cereals in Tadzhikistan, and to a lesser extent in Uzbekistan and Turkmenia, have developed in recent years. Judging from G. V. Voropayev's data (1984), specific expenditures on the use of irrigated land during 19661978 for the irrigation system increased in the middle reaches of the Syr Darya river by 47 per cent and in the lower reaches by 79-102 per cent. The cost of cotton production, meanwhile, has increased in this system by 1.3-1.7 times and in the lower reaches by 2-3 times.

It is evident that environmental management in the upper parts of the river basins greatly affects the state of the environment and human well-being in the lower parts of the basins. Thus, we can speak of the existence of a nature-social systems cascade, in which variations in the upper links of the system progressively affect changes in the lower links.

One of the serious causes of the Aral ecological crisis and many other problems of the former USSR was the organization of the production system. The main economic defects of this system were planning and the detailed regulation of all economic life through a system of ministries, and also the fact that payment for labour was not according to final results but according to various intermediate indices.

Up to 1985, the USSR had about 250 different ministries at the union level (i.e. ministries of the whole USSR), not including the numerous ministries in each of the 15 republics within the USSR. These ministries received from the state budget funds that were often not connected with each other in financial goals. A certain economic integrity, however, was ensured by various administrative mechanisms. Therefore, each ministry was motivated to get as much money as possible from the state budget and, at the same time, acted as a monopolist in its branch of economy. These ministries were unconcerned about the final results and quality of their work. Thus, the USSR Ministry of Reclamation and Water Management was primarily interested in expanding its construction activity (and not in maximizing agricultural production). It acted to secure the largest construction projects, such as large-scale development of irrigation works or the territorial redistribution of river runoff. The size of financing depended not on the assumed growth of agricultural production that would result from this irrigation, but on the planned scale of the reclamation work itself. In practice, this orientation led to the creation of gigantic projects, the economic and social effectiveness of which was not assessed. Strange as it may seem, the ministries advocating these large projects at different bureaucratic levels found support among the local authorities in the regions. The reason for this paradox was as follows. The budgets of individual regions and districts were often much lower than those of the ministries and their subdivisions. Therefore, local authorities often approved many billions of roubles in unneeded projects for their regions in the hope that some small sums of money would find their way to them and would be used for the development of the social sector - roads, hospitals, housing.

The fallacy of this economic approach is also apparent at lower levels of production. Thus, in cotton-growing areas on irrigated land, the financing of collective and state farms depended not on the amount of cotton grown but on the volume of technological operations planned (e.g. irrigation volumes, use of fertilizers, cotton processing with defoliants, etc.). Therefore, the producer was not interested in increasing final production and in decreasing production expenditures. Moreover, upon securing funds for certain technological operations, this system frequently fulfilled its operations only on paper, often supported by fictitious documents and significant sums of misappropriated money. This is why it was so difficult to introduce less water-consuming types of cotton in Central Asia - because they demanded less water, they reduced the financial awards made by the state.

In the future, a detailed zoning of the Aral Sea region should be undertaken, based on critical indices of the nature-society situation and trajectory. The integrated character, depth, and extent of the irreversibility of nature, social indices, the economy, and needed expenditures on mitigation and compensation should be used as criteria for this zoning. This could be of great practical value, since it would distinguish the priority regions for mitigatory measures.

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