That huge pool of water just on the east side of Caspian Sea? You don't?
Maybe you're to young, 'cause if you looked at that after year 2000 that doesn't look so impressive.
Aral Lake used to be the 4th largest lake in the world for surface (68,000 square kilometres) after Caspian Sea, Lake Superior (North America) and Lake Victoria (Africa), now is almost a pond.
In the 1940s Soviet government decided to divert his main tributary rivers, Amu Darya and Syr Darya in order to irrigate the desert region surrounding Aral Lake in an attempt to grow rice, cereals and cotton. Many of the canals were poorly built, allowing water to leak or evaporate. From the Qaraqum Canal, the largest in Central Asia, perhaps 30 to 75% of the water went to waste. Today, only 12% of Uzbekistan's irrigation canal length is waterproofed (Wikipedia).
Level of salinity rose from approximately 10g/l to often more than 100g/l in the remaining Southern Aral. Salinity of the rivers varies with place and time, as well as through the seasons. When going through the desert, rivers often collect some salt compounds residues in the ground that result in higher salinity, but may well be lowered again after going through irrigated lands. Dams also affect salinity, notably by reducing its variability with the seasons. Smaller lakes within the Aral Sea that have stopped being fed by river flows tend to have higher salinity due to evaporation, causing some or all fishes that either survived or had been reintroduced in the 1990s to die. Even re-watering those lakes does not compensate for the increased salinity over the years. In 1998, water level was down by 20m, with a total volume of 210km3 compared to 1,060km3 in 1960.
Winds are now the lords of the region, blowing highly salted and toxic sand (contaminated by chemicals residuals of weapon testing, industrial projects and so on) as far away as Scandinavia and Japan, being a plague for locals.
The ecosystems of the Aral Sea and the river deltas feeding into it have been nearly destroyed. Crops in the region are destroyed by salt being deposited onto the land. Vast salt plains exposed by the shrinking Aral have produced dust storms, making regional winters colder and summers hotter.
During a visit in 2010 ONU secretary Ban Ki-moon declared "It is clearly one of the worst disasters, environmental disasters of the world. I was so shocked"
In the meanwhile tensions are growing up between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan governments.
Competition for water could become increasingly heated as global warming and rising populations further reduce the amount of water available per capita.
We're going to visit this place in our journey, trying to give a small contribute at least to the visibility of this tragedy.
Down here a beautiful documentary by Ensar Altay for Al-Jazeera.