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Accepted Paper:

The Kökaral Dam: dealing with uncertainty in restoring the Aral Sea  
William Wheeler (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

The Kökaral Dam, built in 2005 to restore part of the dying Aral Sea, today stands as an environmental success story. However, as this paper explores, uncertainties about water supply and about the wider political and economic contexts delayed its construction, and prompt debate about its future.

Paper long abstract:

The Aral Sea receded significantly over the second half of the twentieth century; however, in 2005 a dam was built to restore a small part of the sea, with largely positive results. Today, the dam stands as a major success story both for its World Bank funders and for the Kazakhstan government. However, there was nothing inevitable about its construction: the uncertainty of inflow from the Syr Darya, in conjunction with the volatile post-Soviet economy, made it a risky investment. Moreover, while the dam's effects have been positive, they have not been as expected; indeed, as there was much more rainfall following the dam's construction than in previous years, in some ways the dam exceeded its expectations. This paper, first, examines the messy, contingent processes through which the dam came into being. The paper then shows how this messiness and uncertainty have been elided since the dam's construction in projections of an orderly mastery of nature, exerted either transnationally by the World Bank, or nationally by the Kazakhstani government: water's volatility is subsumed in a narrative of post-Soviet progress. Finally, the paper examines the debate about the next phase of the project, where the dam may be raised higher, or a new dam constructed: considerations about uncertainty of water supply throughout Central Asia far in the future conflict with local preferences for restoring as much of the sea as possible. The paper shows how this debate moves away from water itself to encompass wider concerns about the Kazakhstani state.

Panel Env05
Volatile waters, improvised worlds: hydrosocial transformations and the making of orderly flows [P+R]
  Session 1 Tuesday 16 April, 2019, -