About the author & the Aral Sea: In 2001 Tom Bissell traveled throughout
Uzbekistan, spending some time in Muynak. Forty years ago
Muynak was a busy fishing port on the edge of the Aral Sea,
which was formerly the fourth largest inland sea in the world
but now, due to 40 years of Soviet irrigation policy, is
mostly polluted desert. He recorded his
thoughts and observations in a memoir, Chasing The Sea, published in 2003,
which combined the story of his travels with a chronicle of
Uzbekistan's culture and history. His second
book, God Lives in St Petersburg,
continues to explore Uzbekistan and other parts of Central
Asia, but in the form of short stories instead of
The Aral Sea is disappearing because its two major sources, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, were diverted by the Soviet Union in the 1960s in order to irrigate cotton plants. The desertification of a large area around the Sea is caused mainly by the many thousands of tons of salt and sand (estimated 200,000 tons/day) being carried from the dry sea-bed by the wind and dispersed over a 300 km area. The United Nations has estimated that the Aral Sea will essentially disappear by 2020 if nothing is done to reverse its decline. In 2003 construction began on a dike to enclose the smaller northern section, in the hope of saving at least that.
This article was originally published in February 2005, and has been updated for the
January 2006 paperback release.
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