Aral Sea Crisis
In the 1960's the USSR began using water from the Amu Darya River and its tributaries to grow cotton. This resulted in dramatic reduction of surface water, eventually resulting in the river no longer reaching the sea. The Aral Sea was once the fourth largest inland bodies of water, but today it is 10% of its original size. This has resulted in economic hardships for communities that once relied on the fishing industry, in addition to salinization of soils and drinking water. Simultaneously, heavy agricultural chemical applications contaminated soils, river beds, and food products. Previous studies indicate significant dust exposures and high levels of contaminants in human blood and breast milk.
The region of Uzbekistan impacted is the semi-autonomous region of Karakalpakstan. The crisis impacts over 3.5 million Karakalpak people, especially women and children. The scale of the issue, complex geopolitical landscape, and conflict over transboundary water use all greatly complicate the crisis, which is widely regarded as one of the world's greatest ecological disasters.
TIFO is partnering with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the Ministry of Health, and other stakeholders to assess environmental health risks in Karakalpakstan. The environmental data is some of the first collected in more than two decades. Results from the assessments will inform an intervention strategy that reduces health burdens on the most vulnerable populations.