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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
Name of conflict:Cotton production at Aral Sea, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan
State or province:Nationwide
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 commodities:Cotton
Project Details and Actors
Project details

2.75 million hectares affected through land degradation due to poor water management.

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Project area:2,750,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:35 million
Start of the conflict:1960
Relevant government actors:Soviet Union
Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan governments
International and Finance InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP)
Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) from Japan
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Environmental Justice Foundation:
The Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN):
Water Users Associations (WUAs)
Perzent--Karakalpak Center for Reproductive Health and Environment:
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Industrial workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Creation 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
Other Environmental impactsLocalized 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
Other Health impactsMother'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-economical 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
Other socio-economic impactsFisheries and traditional irrigation methods were abandoned and ultimately lost.
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain: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 & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[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]

[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]

[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]

[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]

[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]

[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]

[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]

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

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

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[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]

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

Other comments:JICA report on the Aral Sea:
Meta information
Contributor:Suky Martinez, ICTA-UAB
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2857
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