Uzbekistan launches new program to develop Aral Sea area

TASHKENT (TCA) — Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyayev on January 18 signed a decree that approves the State Program for the development of the Aral Sea region during the period 2017-2021, Uzbek media reported.

The program plans to spend an equivalent of $1.2 billion for the development of the social and economic infrastructure in the area of the shrinking Aral Sea, create more than 97 thousand jobs, and provide more than 70 percent of the population of Karakalpakstan Autonomous Region and Khorezm Province (located in the Aral area) with drinking water supply.  

The program also plans to improve the investment attractiveness of the Aral region.   

The Uzbek Finance Ministry will create a Fund for the Aral Development, to be financed from the state budget, loans from international financial organizations, and foreign donor funds.

It was earlier reported that the government of Uzbekistan in 2015-2018 planned to spend $4.3 billion for alleviation of the consequences of the shrinking Aral Sea and for rehabilitation and socio-economic development of the Aral region.

Located in deserts between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the Aral Sea was the world’s fourth-largest lake before 1960. During the subsequent years, the Aral Sea has shrunk almost by half and the water level has lowered by 18 meters.    

In the 1950s the irrigation areas in Central Asia, especially for cotton fields, were greatly expanded. As cotton is one of the most water intensive crops, that expansion provoked a steep increase in water usage, which caused the Aral Sea to dry up with a catastrophic impact on the whole region.

In 1993, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan set up the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea.

Sergey Kwan