Ecological restoration and economic recovery in Kazakhstan’s Northern Aral Sea region

  • Datum: –17.00
  • Plats: IRES Library, Gamla torget 3, 3rd floor, and Zoom
  • Föreläsare: Kristopher White, Associate Professor, KIMEP University, Almaty, Kazakhstan
  • Arrangör: Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies (IRES)
  • Kontaktperson: Anna Appelberg
  • Föreläsning

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The famed Aral Sea crisis has gained global notoriety and ample scholarly attention across numerous academic disciplines.  The regional crisis stems from the disastrous repercussions associated with unsustainable management of the Aral’s feeder rivers, the Syrdarya and Amudarya.  Largely anthropogenic in genesis, the crisis is most dramatically exemplified by the near-disappearance of what was once the world’s fourth-largest inland water body by area.  Ubiquitous photographic images of Aral shipping vessels stranded in the desert are a dramatic reminder of the sheer power of faulty logic and myopic vision vis-à-vis human interference in ecosystem functioning.  Biophysical, environmental repercussions have included desertification, habitat destruction, species extinction, soil mineralization, dust storms, and the concentration of toxic chemical substances.  Relatedly, socio-economic repercussions coalesce along the human health impacts associated with environmental exposure and dire economic situation resulting in the destruction of the region’s economic base – the fishing industry.  The totality of negative consequences for regional residents has led many scholars to identify the Aral Sea crisis as among the worst environmental disasters in human memory.

Part of what remains of the Aral Sea is located within Kazakhstan, including a small remnant lake fed entirely by the Syrdarya.  This Northern Aral Sea (NAS) has been the focus of a number of optimistic popular press accounts of the so-called “saving” of the Aral.  Simple examination of MODIS satellite imagery between say, 2000 and 2019, shows clearly that the Aral Sea has not been saved and in fact continues its receding desiccation.   The lone point of optimism has been the 2005 completion of the Kok Aral dam and infrastructure associated with the partially World Bank-funded Syr Darya Control and Northern Aral Sea Phase 1 project.  Since this project’s completion, NAS water area and volume have been stabilized at an 18 percent increase.  While this might be considered a rather modest improvement, the positive developments in both ecological and economic terms has been real and tangible.  Habitat restoration has included that for the foundation of the region’s economic base – fish and the resulting return (however modest) of the fishing industry.  While ecological restoration will be addressed, primary focus is on the return of local fishing economic activity, including the harvest, processing, and export of fish.  Positive ecological and economic developments have engendered a genuine sense of hope and optimism within the NAS region, emotions long absent in the half century of assault from the Aral Sea crisis.      

Dr. White is a geographer and Associate Professor at KIMEP University in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  Since his initial visit to the Aral Sea in 2005, the Aral case, in particular the human-environment interrelationships inherent in the notorious crisis, as well as the more recent recovery of Kazakhstan’s Northern Aral Sea have informed research efforts and classroom teaching endeavors.  Other recent research publications have investigated cultural landscape expressions of the snow leopard in Kazakhstan, and expressions of nature and nationalism in the iconography of Kazakhstan’s postage stamps.