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Accepted Paper:

The Aral Sea Goes Global: Debates about the “Restoration” of the Aral Sea, 1991-2005  
Sarah Cameron


This paper examines debates in the immediate post-Soviet period (1991-2005) over how to “restore” the Aral Sea and its environs. Once one of the world’s largest inland bodies of water, the Aral Sea began to shrink dramatically in the 1960s, when Soviet officials directed an increasing volume of water towards cotton production. As a result of the sea’s declining water levels, the climate and ecology of the surrounding region changed, and the people who lived near the sea began to experience a dramatic increase in health problems. The sea’s vibrant fishing industry came to a halt. After the Soviet collapse, an array of international actors rushed in to try and manage the problem. Globally, the Aral Sea began to be portrayed as the prime example of Soviet environmental mismanagement. But many struggled to offer effective solutions to the disaster. They also confronted a basic definitional challenge: Given that the Aral Sea has always been linked to regional water needs, what does it mean to “restore” the sea and who should get a say in that choice? This paper will examine how different groups (international agencies, local actors and others) approached that question in the period 1991-2005. As well, it will address why a dam to “bring back” the sea was built on the Kazakhstani side in 2005 but no similar project was attempted for the Uzbekistani side.

Panel T54GEO
“Improving” the arid lands of Central Asia: Development schemes and their consequences
  Session 1 Saturday 8 June, 2024, -