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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs