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.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs