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Northern Aral Sea Fills Up Ahead of Schedule as Part of World Bank Project

Astana, February 14, 2006 – The Northern Aral Sea, whose surface had shrunk to half its original size, has filled up just months after the Kok-Aral Dam was erected between it and the Southern Aral Sea in August 2005.

The World Bank is involved in the restoration of the Aral Sea as part of the Syr Darya and Northern Aral Sea project. Its experts originally predicted it would take five to 10 years to fill up the northern portion of the Sea. With the water level already high, a sluice can begin operating to allow excess water to flow into the parched Southern Aral Sea.

The Aral Sea is shared by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, but its basin also encompasses Afghanistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

The Sea began to shrink in the 1960s, when massive diversion of water for cotton cultivation under the Soviet Union drained the two rivers that feed the Sea, the Syr Darya and Amu Darya. The resulting three-fourths decrease in volume of the Northern Aral Sea by 1996 had devastated the surrounding environment and ruined the traditional fishing economy of the bordering villages.

“Effective project works upstream on the Syr Darya River and good inflows to the River, thanks to new waterworks, contributed to the fast pace of success in this project,” said Masood Ahmad, World Bank task team leader for the project.

Newly reconstructed, rebuilt, and rehabilitated waterworks along the Syr Darya are increasing the carrying capacity of the river, filling the Northern Aral Sea and also benefiting farmers by irrigating their lands. Additional waterworks are planned to restore fishing lakes in the delta region, which will serve as hatcheries from which to restock the Northern Aral Sea’s fish population, which was nearly decimated because of the extreme salinity of the water.

Despite its early success, the Project is only half complete. The next step is to improve the irrigation efficiency of two-thirds of the land in the Kazakh part of the Aral Sea basin. Better water resources management will benefit Central Asian countries by allowing them to address energy and conservation needs more efficiently, and potentially even earn revenue from the sale of hydropower to upstream countries.

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