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“Improving” the arid lands of Central Asia: Development schemes and their consequences 
Kate Shields (Rhodes College)
Sarah Cameron
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Aibubi Duisebayeva (Al-Farabi Kazakh National University)
Jennifer Keating (University College Dublin)
401 (Floor 4)
Saturday 8 June, -
Time zone: Asia/Almaty


Historically, drylands have made those from wetter, more forested areas, such as Russia, France, Germany and the UK, uncomfortable, provoking state anxieties and plans for “improvement.” Persistent misunderstandings about drylands as empty wastelands and fears of increasing desertification have led to policies and development schemes to increase forest cover and irrigation around the world. These schemes, however, have often failed and resulted in real degradation of these delicately balanced ecosystems. This panel focuses on these schemes for “improvement” in the Central Asian drylands (i.e. deserts and steppes) such as the Virgin Lands Campaign, construction of the Karakum Canal, and irrigation of the Hungry Steppe, and their consequences including large-scale salinization of lands and the shrinking of the Aral and Caspian Seas. Thes environmental consequences in turn affect the lives and livelihoods of dryland residents. The goal of this panel is to contribute growing work that seeks not to improve drylands, but to understand ecologies and human-environment interactions in drylands past and present in order to better manage and restore these areas. Viktoriya Krylova’s paper examines how climate change exacerbates historical development schemes in Kazakhstan. Sarah Cameron's paper examines debates in the immediate post-Soviet period (1991-2005) over how to “restore” the Aral Sea and its environs. Finally, Kate Shields provides insight into how policy makers and foresters are working to stabilize the soils of the dried Aral Seabed in Uzbekistan through large-scale afforestation by mixing ethnographic and remote sensing analysis.

Accepted papers:

Session 1 Saturday 8 June, 2024, -