Can dust storms be predicted in the Aral region?

The countries of Central Asia have diverse agro-climatic zones and natural resources. If you travel on the main roads of the region or mark a red line on the geographical map, you will have to go over mountain ranges and forests, steppes and salt marsh, deserts and oases, rivers and lakes and even a sea. To be specific, several of its parts – the remainders of once the biggest land water body, rich with fish – the Aral Sea. 

Aral is previously a no outflow salty lake on the border of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Starting the 60ies of the twentieth century the sea level (and the volume of its water) started to diminish rapidly, including as a result of water use for numerous channels from the main supply rivers of Amudarya and Syrdarya for the irrigation purposes. In 1989 the sea was split into two isolated ponds – the Northern (Small) and the Southern (the Big) Aral Sea. 

In 2014 the eastern part of the Southern (Big) Aral Sea completely dried and reached the historic minimum area in that year of just 7297 Briefly filled in the spring of 2015 (up to 10780 of the whole sea), its water area again shrunk to 8303 by the fall of 2015. 

Before the shallowing, the Aral Sea was the fourth largest lake in the world.

Shrinking of the sea has greatly affected the climate of the region in the proximity to the former sea area (up to 100 km from the former coastline), which became more continental, with drier and hotter summers and colder and longer winters. The dust containing sea salts, pesticides and other chemicals in large amounts is carried by winds from the dried part of the former seabed to nearby regions.

Therefore it’s not surprising that during the Second Central Asia Climate Change Conference (CACCC 2019) in April of this year in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, the first deputy General Director of the Center for hydrometeorological service under the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan (UzHydromet) Dr. Bahriddin Nishonov focused in detail on the environmental disaster in the Aral Sea basin in his speech and possible ways of adapting to the changed climate of the region. The Aral Sea catastrophe, turning an enormous territory into a desert and the following natural disasters of the last several decades have undoubtedly are interrelated and negatively impact the health and lives of the people. This has been long declared by the scientists and the politicians, however, there can be no decision achieved without regional cooperation and adoption of regional water policy. 

The Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On the action strategy for further development of the Republic of Uzbekistan for 2017-2021” dated 17 February 2017 declares adoption of systemic measures to mitigate the negative impacts of the global climate change and drying of the Aral Sea on the development of agriculture and livelihood of the population. 

At present multiple projects have been implemented for introducing climate resilient approaches to managing natural resources in the Central Asian region, with the support of a number of international and regional networks and organizations. Together with expansion of knowledge databases about such approaches, the stakeholders need to direct efforts to promoting complex (integrated) management of natural resources and climate sound practices. It is important to initiate the dialogue between the practitioners and policy makers by means of informing them about numerous advantages of a common approach to managing natural resources. 

The Resolution of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan dated 16 October 2018 No. ПП-3975 established the International innovation center of Aral Sea basin under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, main objectives for which include priority areas of activities including: 

- improving the ecosystem and sustainable livelihoods in the saline lands of the dried bottom of the Aral Sea;

- coordinating work with the international organizations for the development and implementation of innovations and solutions to diverse problems in saline environments;

- creation of experimental fields for conducting tests;

- identification, promotion and transfer of innovative technologies and approaches, including those for agroforestry, afforestation, aquaculture, bioenergy, crop diversification, cultivation of complex crops, animal husbandry, improvement of pastures, drought management and climate change mitigation and adaptation;

- development of public-private partnership in areas for addressing the impacts of drying up of the Aral Sea and the environmental rehabilitation of the Aral Sea basin.

The International innovation center of Aral Sea Basin was organized as a result of the work of the Summit of Heads of founding states of the International Fund for Aral Sea (IFAS), which took place on August 24, 2018 in the city of Turkmenbashi (Turkmenistan), and which was attended by all five presidents of our region. In his speech the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev underlined, that the current historic session of the heads of founding states of the Fund taking place after almost a 10-year break, will open a new page in the activities of the organization, and will create strong stimulus for regional partnership in Central Asia. 

Speaking about the need to join efforts to overcome the negative effects of the Aral crisis and improve the socio-economic situation in the Aral Sea region, to solve water and environmental problems of the region considering common interests, the head of Uzbekistan highlighted that IFAS is the only regional organization working on this issue today and can serve as an effective tool for cooperation of our countries.

The summit emphasized the need for strengthening cooperation between the IFAS and the United Nations, assigning systematic and long-term framework. In the meantime the heads of states expressed satisfaction on adopting the resolution of the UN General Assembly dated 12 April 2018 on cooperation between the United Nations and the International Fund for Aral Sea, the resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations dated 18 June 2018 on “Strengthening regional and international cooperation with the goal of ensuring peace, stability and sustainable development in the Central Asian region”, as well as the resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations dated 21 December 2016 on “International Decade of Action “Water for Sustainable Development”, 2018-2028 years”.

The Heads of State noted the importance of developing a Program of Action to assist the countries of the Aral Sea Basin (ASBP-4) to join the efforts and capacities of the states of the region and the international community with the aim of addressing common water, environmental and socio-economic issues of the Aral Sea basin.

In regard to correlation between the Aral ecological disaster and changes in the weather in the region, Bahriddin Nishonov said: “Intensive climate warming is observed throughout the whole territory of Uzbekistan. Average warming rates are 0.29°C. Climate change trends are impacting the increase in the duration of the dry hot period, the increase in the number of days with heavy precipitation and high variability of precipitation, lower snow reserves in the mountains and degradation of glaciation, higher frequency of extreme events, and more frequent mudflows and floods.”    

For reference:

- The Second Central Asian Climate Change Conference (CACCC 2019) was held on April 3-4, 2019 in Tashkent (Uzbekistan). The main objective of the conference is to promote regional cooperation and partnership in climate change adaptation and mitigation in Central Asia. The conference is a continuation of the World Bank's initiative to knowledge and information sharing on climate change in Central Asia and is supported by the CAMP4ASB project. The first conference was held on January 24-25, 2018 in Almaty (Kazakhstan).

- Full version of the article about the Aral Sea can be read here:

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