老澳门六合彩

Climate change is fueling the disappearance of the Aral Sea. It鈥檚 taking residents鈥 livelihoods, too

Light is reflected on part of the Aral Sea outside Muynak, Uzbekistan, Sunday, June 25, 2023. The destruction of the Aral Sea in Central Asia has been labeled by the U.N. as the most staggering disaster of the 20th century. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Light is reflected on part of the Aral Sea outside Muynak, Uzbekistan, Sunday, June 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

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MUYNAK, Uzbekistan (AP) 鈥 Toxic dust storms, anti-government protests, the fall of the Soviet Union 鈥 for generations, none of it has deterred Nafisa Bayniyazova and her family from making a living growing melons, pumpkins and tomatoes on farms around the Aral Sea.

Bayniyazova, 50, has spent most of her life near Muynak, in northwestern Uzbekistan, tending the land. Farm life was sometimes difficult but generally reliable and productive. Even while political upheaval from the Soviet Union鈥檚 collapse transformed the world around them, the family鈥檚 farmland yielded crops, with water steadily flowing through canals coming from the Aral and surrounding rivers.

Now, Bayniyazova and other residents say they鈥檙e facing a catastrophe they can鈥檛 beat: climate change, which is accelerating the decades-long demise of the Aral, once the lifeblood for the thousands living around it.

Nafisa Bayniyazova poses for a photo with her dog Alabai, on her farm near Muynak, Uzbekistan, Wednesday, June 28, 2023. Bayniyazova and other residents say they're facing a catastrophe they can't beat: climate change, which is accelerating the decades-long demise of the Aral Sea, once the lifeblood for the thousands living around it. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Nafisa Bayniyazova poses for a photo with her dog Alabai, on her farm near Muynak, Uzbekistan, Wednesday, June 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

The Aral has nearly disappeared. Decades ago, deep blue and filled with fish, it was one of the world鈥檚 largest inland bodies of water. It鈥檚 shrunk to less than a quarter of its former size.

Much of its early demise is due to human engineering and agricultural projects gone awry, now paired with climate change. Summers are hotter and longer; winters, shorter and bitterly cold. Water is harder to find, experts and residents like Bayniyazova say, with salinity too high for plants to properly grow.

鈥淓veryone goes further in search of water,鈥 Bayniyazova said. 鈥淲ithout water, there鈥檚 no life.鈥

A house decimated by sandstorms sits in the destroyed village on the edge of the dried-up Aral Sea, near Tastubek, Kazakhstan, Monday, July 3, 2023. The hazardous conditions around the Aral include toxic dust storms, towns that are swallowed by dunes, water salination and evaporation, drier winters and hotter summers. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

A house decimated by sandstorms sits in the destroyed village on the edge of the dried-up Aral Sea, near Tastubek, Kazakhstan, Monday, July 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

A rusting ship sits in a dried-up area of the Aral Sea in Muynak, Uzbekistan, Sunday, June 25, 2023. Decades ago, deep blue and filled with fish, it was one of the world's largest inland bodies of water. It's shrunk to less than a quarter of its former size. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

A rusting ship sits in a dried-up area of the Aral Sea in Muynak, Uzbekistan, Sunday, June 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)


EDITORS鈥 NOTE: This is the second piece in on the once-massive Aral Sea, the lives of those who鈥檝e lived and worked on its shores, and the effects of climate change and restoration efforts in the region. The AP visited both sides of the Aral, in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, to document the changing landscape.


HISTORY AND DEMISE

For decades, the Aral 鈥 fed by rivers relying heavily on glacial melt, and intersecting the landlocked countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan 鈥 held meters-long fish, caught and shipped across the Soviet Union.

The region prospered, and thousands of migrants from across Asia and Europe moved to the Aral鈥檚 shores, for jobs popping up everywhere from canning factories to luxury vacation resorts.

Today, the few remaining towns sit quiet along the former seabed of the Aral 鈥 technically classified as a lake, due to its lack of a direct outlet to the ocean, though residents and officials call it a sea. Dust storms whip through, and rusted ships sit in the desert.

The shrinking Aral Sea is visible in satellite images from NASA

In the 1920s, the Soviet government began to drain the sea for irrigation of cotton and other cash crops. By the 1960s, it shrunk by half; those crops thrived. By 1987, the Aral鈥檚 level was so low it split into two bodies of water: the northern and southern seas, in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, respectively.

The United Nations Development Program calls the destruction of the Aral Sea 鈥渢he most staggering disaster of the 20th century.鈥 It points to the Aral鈥檚 demise as the cause of land degradation and desertification, drinking water shortages, malnutrition, and deteriorating health conditions.

SEE MORE PHOTOS FROM UZBEKISTAN:

National governments, international aid organizations and local groups have tried 鈥 with varying degrees of effort and success 鈥攖o save the sea. Efforts range from planting bushes for slowing the encroaching dunes to building multimillion-dollar dams.

But experts say climate change has only accelerated the death of the Aral, and will continue to exacerbate residents鈥 suffering.

The UN labels the destruction of the Aral Sea in Central Asia the most staggering disaster of the 20th century. The drying up of the once-mighty sea has affected residents and their livelihoods for decades. Some now say climate change presents their greatest obstacle yet. (AP Video by Victoria Milko and Ebrahim Noroozi. Produced by Teresa de Miguel)

鈥淥NLY US LOCALS鈥

Without the moderating influence of a large body of water to regulate the climate, dust storms began to blow through towns. They whipped toxic chemicals from a shuttered Soviet weapons testing facility and fertilizer from farms into the lungs and eyes of residents, contributing to increased rates of respiratory diseases and cancer, according to the U.N.

Fierce winds caused dunes to swallow entire towns, and abandoned buildings filled with sand. Residents fled. A dozen fish species went extinct, and businesses shuttered.

Madi Zhasekenov, 64, said he watched as his town鈥檚 once-diverse population dwindled.

鈥淭he fish factories closed, the ships were stranded in the harbor, and the workers all left,鈥 said Zhasekenov, former director of the Aral Sea Fisherman Museum in Aralsk, Kazakhstan. 鈥淚t became only us locals.鈥

Dust storms, rising global temperatures, and wind erosion are destroying the glaciers the sea鈥檚 rivers rely on, . The remaining water is getting saltier and evaporating faster.

Melting ice and changing river flows may further destabilize drinking water supply and food security, the report warns, and hydropower plants could suffer.

Akerke Molzhigitova prepares the food for camels early in the morning, along the dried-up Aral Sea, in the village of Tastubek near the Aralsk city, Kazakhstan, Sunday, July 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Akerke Molzhigitova prepares the food for camels early in the morning, along the dried-up Aral Sea, in the village of Tastubek near the Aralsk city, Kazakhstan, Sunday, July 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Camels gather next to a well in the desert that used to be the bed of the Aral Sea next to the village of Tastubek near Aralsk city, Kazakhstan, Monday, July 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Camels gather next to a well in the desert that used to be the bed of the Aral Sea next to the village of Tastubek near Aralsk city, Kazakhstan, Monday, July 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

During a recent summer in the small desert village of Tastubek, Kazakhstan, farmer Akerke Molzhigitova, 33, watched as the grass her horses fed on dried up from extreme heat. To try and save them 鈥 a major source of income and food 鈥 she moved them 200 kilometers (125 miles) away.

Still, dozens died. Her neighbors, fearing the same fate, sold their animals.

CONTRAST ALONG THE ARAL

Near Sudochye Lake in Uzbekistan, Adilbay and his friends fish in the Aral鈥檚 remaining water pockets. Their catch is tiny.

He holds his arms wide, the size of fish from years ago. 鈥淣ow there is nothing,鈥 said Adilbay, 62, who goes by only one name.

As the water disappeared, a nearby fish processing warehouse closed. Adilbay鈥檚 friends and relatives moved to Kazakhstan, seeking new jobs.

There, fisherman Serzhan Seitbenbetov, 36, and others find success. Sitting in a boat rocking in gentle waves, he pulled his net. In an hour, he hauled in a hundred fish, some 2 meters (6.5 feet) long. He鈥檒l make 5000 Kazakhstani Tenge ($10.50), he said 鈥 five times his previous daily pay as a taxi driver in a neighboring city.

鈥淣ow all the villagers make good money being fishermen,鈥 he said.

Serzhan Seitbenbetov, left, and Omirserik Ibragimov fish in a part of the Aral Sea with water, far away from their village Tastubek, outside Aralsk, Kazakhstan, Sunday, July 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Serzhan Seitbenbetov, left, and Omirserik Ibragimov fish in a part of the Aral Sea with water, far away from their village Tastubek, outside Aralsk, Kazakhstan, Sunday, July 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Fish taken from the Aral Sea sit in water on the bottom of a boat outside the village of Tastubek, Kazakhstan, Sunday, July 1, 2023. Fisheries have been restored thanks to a dike that cuts across a narrow stretch of the sea, conserving and gathering water that comes from the Syr Darya. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Fish taken from the Aral Sea sit in water on the bottom of a boat outside the village of Tastubek, Kazakhstan, Sunday, July 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Omirserik Ibragimov, from the village of Tastubek, poses for a photo outside Aralsk, Kazakhstan, Sunday, July 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Omirserik Ibragimov, from the village of Tastubek, poses for a photo outside Aralsk, Kazakhstan, Sunday, July 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

That鈥檚 the result of an $86 million dike project led by Kazakhstan, with assistance from the 老澳门六合彩 Bank, completed in 2005.

Known as the Kokaral Dam, the dike cuts across a narrow stretch of the sea, conserving and gathering water from the Syr Darya River. The dike surpassed expectations, leading to an increase of over 10 feet in water levels after seven months.

That helped restore local fisheries and affected the microclimate, causing an increase in clouds and rainstorms, according to the 老澳门六合彩 Bank. Population grew.

SEE MORE PHOTOS FROM KAZAKHSTAN:

But it couldn鈥檛 replicate life before the water started drying up, said Sarah Cameron, an associate professor at the University of Maryland who鈥檚 writing a book about the Aral.

鈥淚t does not support the same amount of people and the fishing industry in the same way,鈥 Cameron said.

And building the dike in Kazakhstan cut off the south part of the sea in Uzbekistan from its crucial water source.

Uzbekistan has been less successful in restoration efforts. The government hasn鈥檛 undertaken large projects like the Kokaral. Instead, the country planted saxaul trees and other drought-resistant plants to help prevent erosion and slow dust storms.

Agriculture, especially the export of water-intensive cotton, continued to be a main staple of the economy. Millions of people worked 鈥 for years in forced-labor campaigns 鈥 in the cotton-picking industry, which further sapped water resources.

A person works in a gas field that was built in the desert that used to be the bed of the Aral Sea, on the outskirts of Muynak, Uzbekistan, Sunday, June 25, 2023. The discovery of oil and natural gas in the Aral's former seabed brought the building of gas production facilities, and shows that Uzbekistan has little interest in restoration, experts said. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

A person works in a gas field that was built in the desert that used to be the bed of the Aral Sea, on the outskirts of Muynak, Uzbekistan, Sunday, June 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

The discovery of oil and natural gas in the Aral鈥檚 former seabed brought the building of gas production facilities 鈥 and shows Uzbekistan has little interest in restoration, experts said.

鈥淲hile there has been some restoration,鈥 said Kate Shields, assistant professor in environmental studies at Rhodes College, 鈥渢here was a sort of an acceptance that ... the sea was not coming back.鈥

Government officials from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan didn鈥檛 respond to questions emailed by AP about restoration efforts, water scarcity and the effects of climate change.

Nafisa Bayniyazova works in her tomato greenhouse near Muynak, Uzbekistan, Wednesday, June 28, 2023. Bayniyazova and other residents say they're facing a catastrophe they can't beat: climate change, which is accelerating the decades-long demise of the Aral Sea, once the lifeblood for the thousands living around it. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Nafisa Bayniyazova works in her tomato greenhouse near Muynak, Uzbekistan, Wednesday, June 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

鈥淏ARELY SURVIVING鈥

On her Uzbekistan farm, Bayniyazova鈥檚 family has dug an earthen well, hoping to hold on to the precious little water that鈥檚 left.

鈥淚f there is no water, it will be very difficult for people to live,鈥 Bayniyazova said. 鈥淣ow people are barely surviving.鈥

She doesn鈥檛 plan to leave her farm yet but knows more hardships are likely ahead. Her family will dig deeper wells, see smaller harvests. They鈥檒l do whatever it takes to hang on to the only life they鈥檝e known.

鈥淲e鈥檒l do everything we can,鈥 she said. 鈥淏ecause what else can we do?鈥

A worn-out boat sits along the dried Aral Sea, in the village of Tastubek near Aralsk, Kazakhstan, Sunday, July 2, 2023. The demise of the once-mighty sea has affected thousands of residents and their livelihoods for decades. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

A worn-out boat sits along the dried Aral Sea, in the village of Tastubek near Aralsk, Kazakhstan, Sunday, July 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

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Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP鈥檚 climate initiative . The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Milko is an Associated Press multimedia reporter covering the nexus of the energy transition, climate change and human rights across Asia-Pacific.