Formerly one of the four largest lakes in the world, the Aral Sea has been steadily shrinking since the 1960s.
Satellite images taken by NASA in August 2014 showed the eastern basin of the Aral Sea had completely dried up. The eastern basin is now called the Aralkum Desert.
Known as one of the worst environmental disasters of our time, the shrinkage has brought severe unemployment and economic hardship for the locals, not to mention health issues sourcing from fertilisers and chemicals drying up in the air.
It's been 20 years since UNDP started helping the Aral Region regain its strength and livelihoods. During this time, we:
· Identified areas where forest can be re-grown
· Built the Aral Forest reserve to protect species and to ‘green’ villages around the area
· Introduced new crops that require less water by replacing rice with alfalfa
· Rebuilt local conditions so that local species can thrive in their habitat.
In the recent years, we were able to fill up Small Aral 1.5 times faster than planned (within 4 years instead of 7).
The water saved as a result of energy-efficient and water-saving technologies also went towards filling up the Small Aral Sea.
How is the water coming back?
UNDP projects in Kazakhstan has introduced a series of energy-efficient technologies such as laser levelling and diversification of crops. Kyzylorda region has always been known for growing water-intensive rice. UNDP projects helped farmers start growing less water-intensive crops in arid zones so that the saved water can go to Syrdarya river which then flows into the Small Aral and fills it up.
Additionally, revival of water places for cattle helped to bring back species and create jobs for people working in the Barsa Kelmes reserve.
As water is coming back, subsoil waters are nourishing the plans, helping the shore grow greener.
We are helping revive the fish industry in northern Aral. When the sea was healthy, it used to provide around 40,000 tonnes of fish per year. 25 years ago there wasn’t any fish to be found.
Now, with the water coming back, up to 8,000 tonnes of fish can be caught.
The waterline used to be 120 km away from the Aral town. Now it’s around 20 km away.
Tourism is still an issue. We are looking into the possibility of arranging tourism centres, but for now this is an area that requires a lot more work.
Soon after UNDP began to work in the region, its initiative quickly became known as "Help the people of Aral help themselves”.