Drought threatening the lives of millions will spread across half the land surface of the Earth in the coming century because of global warming, according to new predictions from Britain's leading climate scientists.
"This is genuinely terrifying," said Andrew Pendleton of Christian Aid. "It is a death sentence for many millions of people. It will mean migration off the land at levels we have not seen before, and at levels poor countries cannot cope with."
This scenario has already played out in an advanced economy -
Aralsk Harbor, Kazakhstan
Myinak, an Uzbek town, has become a symbol of the Aral Sea's tragedy. 30 years ago Myinak was a prosperous port-town. Local people were proud with wonderful beaches and plenty of fish in the Sea. Today Myinak is located more than 100 km far from the Aral Sea. And perhaps the old harbor of Myinak (nowadays called "the graveyard of ships") makes the grimmest impressions on visitors: rusty ships are standing in the sand with the flocks of goats roaming among them.
The Aral Sea - a fishery that employed 60,000 people in the 1960s and was a major supplier of fish to the Soviet Union now supplies no fish and employs none because the last indigenous fish died out in the 1980s. An island that was a major testing ground in the Soviet Union's biological weapons program for decades is now a part of the mainland -
A once productive agricultural region, turned into a cotton monoculture in the 1950s, is now turning into a alkaline salt desert. The environmental conditions are horrific - One report estimates that life span in the "disaster zone" is almost 10 years less than in surrounding areas. The former port town of Nukus, Uzbekistan, now experiences 10 dust and sand storms a year due to the changing climate brought about by the retreat of the sea. One source reportsthat "The water level has dropped by 16 metres and the volume is reduced by 75 percent, a loss equivalent to the water in both Lakes Erie and Huron. The ecological effect has been disastrous and the economic, social and medical problems for people in the region catastrophic. All 20 known fish species in the Aral Sea are now extinct, unable to survive the toxic, salty sludge."
How did it come to this? The disaster was entirely predicted from the beginning and man-made. Just like man-made climate change.
In the 1950s, the Soviet goverment decided that the region should become a cotton monoculture region to rival Egypt and the American South. But cotton is a thirsty crop and Uzbekistan is a desert. So what was the solution? Divert the Amu Darya and Syr Darya Rivers to provide water for acotton monoculture. Not only did the river diversions send water into fields when it should have been going into the Aral, it also irrigated one of the biggest financial swindles in history, one that probably accelerated the fall of the Soviet Union. Pretty ironic that a massive financial swindle occured at the height of the Brezhnev era, huh?
If we are to speak about cotton and irrigation in the former Soviet Union, we must not forget Sharaf Rashidov, the late First Secretary of the Uzbekistan Communist Party Central Committee. He held the position from 1959 until his death in 1983... the republic's statistics before 1984 were a fiction. The investigations revealed that between 1978 and 1983 alone 4.5 million tons of raw cotton were produced on paper only. This cost the state 4 billion rubles (US$6.7 billion) in total, half of which went into the pockets of the leaders. One day in 1983, First Deputy Prime Minister Aliyev, who was the chairman of the Azerbaijan KGB, from Moscow, visited Rashidov in Tashkent to pass on Andropov's tacit message. The next day, Rashidov suddenly died. Then, the Uzbek affair took a new turn, as the investigations spread through the whole country. Usmankhodzhayev, Rashidov's successor, vowed at the funeral that Uzbekistan would keep Rashidov's pledge to produce 6 million metric tons of raw cotton. He was able to do this by ordering the chairman of Uzbekistan's Council of Ministers to pad the figures by another 240,000 tons. All told, nearly 1 million tons of non-existent cotton were "produced" that year. When the cotton swindle in Uzbekistan was exposed, 18,000 people were expelled from the Party, and 330 people from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor's Office, along with 600 leaders of the government and the Party, were prosecuted. However, the social structure did not change...No one was ever charged with a crime...
So the waters of two rivers were diverted to irrigate non-existant cotton. The sea began to retreat. Today, one can walk 30 miles across a salt desert from what used to be a harbor in Aralsk before you reach the water. Winds blow 75 million tons of dust a year into the air, settling on an area once known as the Aral Sea, now known as Aral Kum.
One artist continues on -
''We cannot save the Aral and soon you will be able to see it only in pictures,'' claims Uzbek painter Rafael Matevosyan, whose work has portrayed Central Asia's shrinking and dying Aral Sea for more than 40 years.
''As the sea dries, it is leaving behind a new desert that produces dust, sand and salt storms,'' the painter said in an interview, explaining why he has followed the fate of the Aral Sea. ''The land around the Aral is covered with salt and toxic chemicals, which are blown into the atmosphere and spread to the surrounding area.''
''The people living there are suffering from a lack of fresh water and, as a result, they are suffering from diseases,'' he adds.
The population around the Aral shows high rates of cancer and lung diseases, as well as other diseases.
T he process of degradation in the Aral region caused progressive crises in the social and economic spheres. The primary victims of the crises were the most vulnerable layers of population, namely children, women, ill-paid inhabitants of cities and rural areas. The region has the highest child mortality rate in the former USSR (75 children per 1000 newly born), high level of maternity death: about 120 women per 10,000 births. Diseases such as TB, infections and parasites, typhus, hepatite, paratyphoid always accompany poverty.
The disease rate has a tendency to increase. In the epicentre of ecological disaster, anemia, disfunction of thyroid the gland, kidney and liver diseases are wide spread. Blood, oncological diseases, asthma and heart diseases are progressing. Medical research proves that the incidence and growth of these diseases are directly dependent on ecological disaster.
Not only are the old, usual diseases, thought to have been banished with the advent of modern medicine returning, but there is another, more sinister disease source - Vozrozhdenie Island. This CNN article is just the tip of the iceberg -
In the 1960s, Vozrozhdeniye was merely a tiny island in the vast Aral Sea.
Today, with the sea reduced to half its former size, and a much larger Vozrozhdeniye closing in on the shore, some U.S. researchers believe the island is a toxic time bomb set to infect central Asia with some of the deadliest germs on Earth.
Vozrozhdenie Island is a very interesting place and worth a whole diary on it's own. The Soviet Union did experiments on the weaponization of anthrax, tulerimia and other diseases. Puddles of tulerimia littered the island. Monkeys were chained in cages as MiGs dropped bombs filled with weaponized anthrax in tests on the effectiveness of delivery methods. More may be found in Ken Alibek's book, "Biohazard" director of the lab before he defected to the United States.
I could go on, but I think you get the point. Desertification is much more than that. In the years leading up to 2100, one can extrapolate from what happened in the Aral basin to a world wide scale. Rivers diverted in vain attempts to irrigate crops, worsening the situation in the long run. Alkaline deserts formed as croplands are abandoned when they lose productivity. Ports 20 miles from the water, rusting hulks standing as testimony to Man's folly. The destruction of entire freshwater fisheries. World wide dust storms kicking up clouds of salt and pesticides. Diseases we thought went the way of the Model-T, resurgent. Corruption on a scale that makes Enron look like a dime store robbery as elites struggle to steal what they can in a vain attempt to make their kin more comfortable. By then, will anyone give a shit about Mark Foley?
Crossposted at ...if you can keep it