The Aral Sea is a saline endorheic basin in Central Asia; it lies between Kazakhstan (Aktobe and Kyzylorda provinces) in the north and Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region of Uzbekistan, in the south. The name roughly translates as “Sea of Islands”, referring to more than 1,500 islands that once dotted its waters.
In 1960, the Aral Sea was the fourth largest lake in the world, occupying about 68 thousand km ², but due to the fact that the water of the rivers flowing into the sea, was diverted to irrigation, it has become shallow. In 1989, the sea split into two isolated pond – Northern (Small) and South (Big) Aral Sea. For 2003, the surface area of the Aral Sea is about a quarter of the original, and the volume of water – about 10%.
The region’s once prosperous fishing industry has been virtually destroyed, bringing unemployment and economic hardship. The Aral Sea region is also heavily polluted, with consequent serious public health problems. The retreat of the sea has reportedly also caused local climate change, with summers becoming hotter and drier, and winters colder and longer.