The disappearance of the Aral Sea ranks as one of the worst man-made environmental disasters of the 20th century. These grainy photos, taken from 35,000 feet during a flyover of the region on August 17, seem to confirm that the sea is beyond repair. Yet they also raise hope that a small portion of the waters in the north can endure.
Just a little more than a half century ago, the Aral was one of the largest lakes in the world with a total area of about 68,000 square kilometers. But moves by Soviet planners to expand cotton production in Central Asia had the unintended consequence of causing the Aral to start shrinking at an alarming rate. Today, the area covered by water is roughly one-tenth the lake’s former size. Once a contiguous body of water, the Aral is now fragmented into four separate parts.
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Justin Burke is the Managing Editor of EurasiaNet.org.