The Aral Sea Case Study

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  • Formally the fourth largest lake in the world, measured 68,000 km².
  • Steadily shrinking since 1960s due to water being taken from both rivers that feed the lake, as well as dams and canals being built to stop water flow.
  • This was in order to make the former Soviet government self-sufficient, by using the diverted water in irrigation for crops and cotton plants.
  • The Aral Sea was divided into two seperate reservoirs in 1989 (one small - the North in Kazakhstan, one large - the South in Uzbekhistan). The large was then split into east and west in 2001.
  • The water level has dropped 16 metres since the 1960s, and has reduced its volume by 75%.
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Social Impacts

  • Infertile land is unsuitable for the population as crops cannot be grown
  • Drinking water and crops have been made more salty due to rising water table. Water is also contaminated with chemicals, bacteria and pesticides.
  • Respiratory illnesses including TB and cancer, digestive disorders and infectious diseases are common ailments in the region. 
  • Toxic pesticides and chemicals in sand are blown from the dried-up sea bed - creates health problems.
  • High infant mortality rates (75 in 1000) and maternity deaths (12 in 1000).
  • Thousands left unemployed - heavy reliance on fishing.
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Economic Impacts

  • Loss of major industry in the area - 60,000 people left unemployed
  • Migration leads to loss of potential economic development in local communities
  • No investment in order to develop or diversify economy (e.g. by creating new jobs).
  • Wider impact on global fish stocks - used to supply one-sixth of former Soviet's fish
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Environmental Impacts

  • As the Aral Sea depleted, the climate rose in temperature and made the area more arid
  • Poorly built irrigation canals (see background) allow water to leak and evaporate - 30-75% of water in main canal goes to waste
  • The Sea itself has shrunk to two-fifths its original size
  • Heavily polluted seabed and water supplies due to chemicals and bacteria, as well as weapons testing, industrial projects and pesticide run-offs
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Ecological Factors

  • Marine environment has become hostile to live in - killed plant and fish, rendering all 20 species of fish in Aral Sea extinct - loss of biodiversity
  • Less than half of mammal and bird species still inhabit the region, possibly due to the lack of food and heavy pollution
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Future plans for the Aral Sea

  • Kazahstan:
    • 2007 - $126m loan from World Bank to try save N. Aral Sea - will be used to build dam to bring water back to Port of Aralsk
    • Already spent $68m on dam to split the Sea into two parts
    • Communites already benefitting - fishing resumed, rain returned
  • Uzbekhistan:
    • Less positive - unlikely that the Sea will be refilled - water needed for cotton plants - country's economy heavily dependent on
    • Two rivers that feed the Southern Aral Sea are controlled by different countries - the area is sensitive to conflict
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Key players in decisions

  • The former soviet government – began the irrigation scheme designed to develop fruit and cotton farming
  • Fishing community – use to be a prosperous industry but now huge unemployment
  • Local residents – health problems and highest infant mortality rates in the world
  • Scientists – climate has now changed and extinction of species in the area
  • International economists/environment conservation experts – people can no longer feed themselves as the land is infertile, could create 10 million environmental refugees
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Dale McNerlin


Good case study David :) 

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