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Aral Sea Shrinking, Focus of UN Visit to Central Asia

The Aral Sea is shrinking and was the focus of a United Nations visit to the region of Central Asia. The Aral Sea was once the fourth largest lake in the world. In 1960 the lake supported a multitude of fresh and salt water fish, the fishing industries of the now ghost towns of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic and the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. The Aral Sea has since dried up, hosting only brine shrimp in it's waters, causing massive environmental ramifications to wildlife, and economic collapse in once thriving Uzbekistan and Kazakistan.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited the Aral Sea and called upon Central Asia's government to solve the mounting problem of the Aral Sea's devastation. Many factors have caused the Aral Sea to disappear. The most significant causes are the 1960's Soviet led irrigation project that redirected the Aral Sea's waters for farming cotton in Uzbekistan, severe temperatures, and decreased rainfall. The areas around the Aral Sea receive less than 4 inches of rainfall on average. Warmer water and air temperatures have also increased evaporation rates. Summer temperatures in the region can exceed 130 degrees Fahrenheit or 50 degrees Celsius by day with negative 40 degree temperatures at night. Winds not only add to increased evaporation but also contribute to significant health problems for those living near the shrinking Aral Sea. The region is home to the world's highest numbers of lung disease due to the dust winds carry, filled with poisonous chemicals from agricultural runoff from pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides

What was once the world's fourth largest lake is nearly a desert covered with brush and salt deposits. The Sea's mass has shrunken by 70 percent since 1970 at an increasingly alarming rate. Ban reported, after viewing the sea via sky from a helicopter, "I was so shocked. [It is] clearly one of the worst environmental disasters in the world."

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