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Aral Sea: Environment Protection

Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs written question – answered on 13th June 2007.

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Photo of Mark Williams Mark Williams Shadow Minister (Wales)

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports she has received of the environmental effects of the drainage of the Aral Sea; and if she will make a statement.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Minister of State (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The Aral Sea has been recognised as the world's worst artificial ecological disaster. From 1960 to 2000 it lost 75 per cent. of its volume and 50 per cent. of its surface area. Its degradation has been ruinous to the people, plant and animal life in the region. None of the twenty species of fish once found in the Aral have survived. However, a dam has now been placed between the northern and southern part of the Aral Sea, built with international assistance from the World Bank. Since completion in 2005, the World Bank reports that the water-level in the northern part of the sea has gradually risen and, between 2003 and 2006, increased by 13 per cent. in surface area (from 2,850 km sq to 3,250 km sq).

A spillway passing excess water from the northern to the southern part of the Aral Sea has been operational since February 2006 and the water level in the southern part is also now likely to increase in the future, though probably only marginally. Salinity levels of both parts of the sea have been reduced over the last two years and several freshwater fish have been returned to the sea. As such, fish harvests have considerably increased during the past two years.

According to the World Bank, the next step is to improve the irrigation efficiency of the land in the Kazakh part of the Aral Sea basin. Additional waterworks are also planned to restore wetlands and fishing lakes in the delta region. A World Bank project to this end began in 2007 and a project monitoring mission to the Aral Sea is currently underway.

Details of the World Bank project can be found at:

http://www.worldbank.org.kz/external/projects/main?pagePK=64283627&piPK=73230&theSitePK=361869&menuPK=361901&Projectid=P046045

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