News

    Aral, Caspian Seas Remain Under Ecological Threat

    The Soviet Union was home to two of the world's largest inland bodies of water, the Aral and Caspian Seas.  Once offering up abundant examples of nature's grace, both seas are now dying.  In the case of the Aral Sea, the cause is agricultural mismanagement, while in the Caspian it is pollution and oil development.  There are mixed views on whether the seas can be saved.

    The rare and highly prized sturgeon fish has lived and mated in the ink black waters of the Caspian Sea for decades.

    In Soviet times, bans were in place to protect overfishing and prevent pollution.  But in the 1990s those bans were lifted and the fish that is the source of the world's finest and most expensive caviar is now reported on the verge of extinction.

    Scientists say the ongoing loss of the sturgeon is one side effect of irresponsible oil pollution and waste disposal, as well as overfishing in the present.  Additionally, the new Caspian Sea oil rush and planned underwater oil and gas pipelines is only contributing to the problem.

    With the Caspian's water levels rising rapidly, up to two meters in the past several years, coastal regions have been flooded and polluted, especially in Kazakhstan.  If the problem continues at its current rate, the other nations whose shores the Caspian touches could be affected.  They are Russia, Turkmenistan, Iran, and Azerbaijan.

    But from catastrophe comes hope in the form of the international non-governmental group, NGO, known as Crude Accountability.  They are just one of the hundreds of NGOs founded to help preserve and protect the Caspian Sea.

    The North Caspian coordinator for the Moscow branch of Crude Accountability, Aleksey Knizhnikov, says his group has two immediate goals: to restore the Caspian Sea by making oil companies more responsible, and to slow or even halt further oil drilling and exploration, until the sea can be nursed back to health.

    "One of the problems is that there is no regional standard and work plans to combat oil spills so now as soon as [the] framework convention to protect marine ecosystems of [the] Caspian Sea was signed by all countries, we think it will allow all five countries urgently to create regional oil spill prevention plan and this should definitely be the first step before any further development of oil and gas in the region," said Mr. Knizhnikov.

    The governments of the five Caspian states signed the agreement to which Mr. Knizhnikov refers in November, 2003.  The convention aims to protect the sea as both an environmental and economic resource.

    Baftiar Muradov, with the Caspian Environment Program, an NGO in Baku, says he takes heart with recent improvements in Azerbaijan's economy, which he says have enabled the country to set aside more money to save the Caspian.

    Mr. Muradov says international organizations like the World Bank have also assigned grants to locals in order to help them establish their own businesses and abandon fishing activities.

    But both activists say more time, money and effort will be needed before the long-term fate of the Caspian Sea is known.

    Elsewhere, the Aral Sea, once the fourth-largest inland body of water in the world, is also under dire threat.  But unlike the Caspian, its problems stem from shrinkage.

    Up until the early 1950s, the Aral Sea area was designated by the former Soviet Union as a region that would provide independence from the West.  But when central planners decided to divert large amounts of water from the rivers feeding the Aral for crop irrigation, the once abundant sea shrank.

    It continues to do so today at a rate scientists say is even faster than previously thought.  The side effects are enormous, according to the Moscow campaigner for the environmental group Greenpeace in Russia, Alexei Kiselyov.

    "Its health problems caused by pollution,” he noted.  “First of all by salt, and some chemicals like pesticides which are everywhere there... in water, in dust, in soil and sand.  So, people everywhere, especially kids, have huge health problems."

    Mr. Kiselyov notes that the child mortality rates around the Aral Sea are reported to be the highest in the former Soviet Union.  There is also a high level of maternity death, and diseases such as tuberculosis, typhus, and hepatitis have been noted.  Blood, respiratory, and heart disease are also on the rise.

    Now known as one of the greatest man-made natural disasters in the world, Mr. Kiselyov says Greenpeace believes the solution to the Aral Sea problem may lie with the public at large.

    "It is possible for every citizen to push your [their] small company polluting the part of the river [feeding into the Aral Sea] to change the situation, or to change the discharge.  I mostly believe in people's force, rather than in government," he added.

    Mr. Kiselyov also subscribes to the view that money helps.  But he says he personally does not believe the countries sharing the Aral, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, will manage to raise the money needed, even with international support.  Ultimately, he says the Aral Sea is bound to disappear.

    Peter Zavialov of the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology in Moscow holds a more optimistic view.  He told VOA more study is needed.

    Mr. Zavialov says any interference with an ecosystem, especially if it is a water ecosystem, has to be thoroughly examined.  This was not the case with the Aral Sea, he adds, and the results speak for themselves.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.