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.
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.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs