Cotton production at Aral Sea, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan

The Aral Sea dries up due to irrigation for increased cotton production to feed the textile industry.


The Aral Sea was once the 4th largest inland water bodies in the world [1–3] with a volume of 1000 km3 and a surface area of 66000 km2 [3]. It is situated west of the Pamir and the Tien Shan in a semi-arid to arid region [4].

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Basic Data
NameCotton production at Aral Sea, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Specific CommoditiesCotton
Project Details and Actors
Project Details2.75 million hectares affected through land degradation due to poor water management.

1.3 million hectares (ha) of land are for cotton

in Uzbekistan.

Water volume inflow decrease:

Early 1960s = 50-60 km3

1970-1980 = 30 km3

1989-1990 =5 km3

Decrease in fish spawning:

1962 = 40 000 tonnes

1967 = 20 000 tonnes

1970 = about 8000 tonnes

Salinity level increase:

1960 = 10g/l

1990 = 30g/l

1999 = 48g/l 'Big Sea' and 21g/l 'Small Sea'

2015 = 110 g/l

(varying from location to location).
Project Area (in hectares)2,750,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population35 million
Start Date1960
Relevant government actorsSoviet Union

Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan governments
International and Financial InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP)
Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) from Japan
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersEnvironmental Justice Foundation:

The Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN):

Water Users Associations (WUAs)

Perzent--Karakalpak Center for Reproductive Health and Environment:
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingIndustrial workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
OtherLocalized climate change: the water from the Aral Sea helped warm the icy winds from Siberia and eased the summer heat; now the summers are shorter, drier and hotter and winters colder and longer.
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Other environmental related diseases, Deaths
OtherMother's milk contamination;

Infant mortality rates have doubled, respiratory diseases account for almost one half of all child deaths;

Skin diseases;

Public morbidity rates sharply increased due to water poisoning;

Gallstones and kidney stones emerged;

Kidney and liver diseases are more common, as a subtype of cancer;

Esophageal Cancer;

Gastrointestinal problems;

Mother and child anemia;



Viral hepatitis;

Genetical deformations;

In some areas life expectancy is 20 years less than the general Commonwealth Independent States (CIS) and

Physiological and psychological (stress related) problems.
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
OtherFisheries and traditional irrigation methods were abandoned and ultimately lost.
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The north part of the Sea (Kazakhstan) has been partially recovered through the construction of a Dam. South part of the Aral Sea is deserted. Uzbekistan government does not make necessary steps to restore the Aral Sea.
Sources and Materials

[7] Glantz MH, Rubinstein AZ, Zonn I. Tragedy in the Aral Sea basin. Glob Environ Chang. 1993;3(2):174-198. doi:10.1016/0959-3780(93)90005-6.
[click to view]

[10] Orlovsky NS, Orlovsky L, Indoitu R. Severe dust storms in Central Asia. Arid Ecosyst. 2013;3(4):227-234. doi:10.1134/S2079096113040082.
[click to view]

[14] Veldwisch GJA, Mollinga PP. Lost in transition? The introduction of water users associations in Uzbekistan. Water Int. 2013;38(6):758-773. doi:10.1080/02508060.2013.833432
[click to view]

[11] Orlovsky L, Orlovsky N, Durdyev A. Dust storms in Turkmenistan. J Arid Environ. 2005;60(1):83-97. doi:10.1016/j.jaridenv.2004.02.008.
[click to view]

[12] Létolle R, Chesterikoff A. Salinity of surface waters in the Aral sea region. Int J Salt Lake Res. 1999;8(4):293-306. doi:10.1007/BF02442116.
[click to view]

[2] Levintanus A. Saving the Aral Sea. J Environ Manage. 1992;36(3):193-199.
[click to view]

[3] EJF. The True Costs of Cotton: Cotton Production and Water Insecurity. London; 2012.
[click to view]

[6] Cai X, McKinney DC, Rosegrant MW. Sustainability analysis for irrigation water management in the Aral Sea region. Agric Syst. 2003;76(3):1043-1066.
[click to view]

[13] Center-Perzent. Lindane Education And Research Network Women Respond to a Shrinking Aral Sea.
[click to view]

[4] Schettler G, Oberhänsli H, Hahne K. Ra-226 and Rn-222 in saline water compartments of the Aral Sea region. Appl Geochemistry. 2015;58:106-122.
[click to view]

[9] Indoitu R, Kozhoridze G, Batyrbaeva M, et al. Dust emission and environmental changes in the dried bottom of the Aral Sea. Aeolian Res. 2015;17:101-115. doi:10.1016/j.aeolia.2015.02.004
[click to view]


[5] Pavel G. No Aral Sea: Man-made environmental disaster - BBC News. 2014.
[click to view]

Media Links

[15] Grifiths E. Resurrecting the Aral Sea. 2007.
[click to view]

[1] AtCEPImperial N. The Shrinking of the Aral Sea - “One of the Planet’s Worst Environmental Disasters.”; 2013.
[click to view]

[8] Coixet I. Aral. The Lost Sea. We Are Water Foundation; 2010.
[click to view]

Other Documents

A dried Aral Sea Boats left abandoned as the Aral Sea dried up
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Aral Decline throughout time, NASA images
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Deserted Aral Sea
[click to view]

Fishermen before the Aral Sea catastrophe
[click to view]

[click to view]

Other CommentsJICA report on the Aral Sea:
Meta Information
ContributorSuky Martinez, ICTA-UAB
Last update25/06/2017
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