Aral Sea is (was?) located in this geographic region:
A 1990s school map showing the location of Aral Sea and Caspian Sea.
For a long, long time Aral Sea was the world’s fourth largest water body. Located between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the Aral Sea was once a strategically important water boy – the Russians had a naval flotilla in the mid-19th century located there. At the time, the Aral Sea had over 1,100 islands which actually gave the water body its name; ‘Aral’ means Sea of Islands in Turkic.
Russian warships on Aral Sea in 1865. WikimediaCommons
Then, in the 1960s, the Soviets started draining the Sea by diverting the two main rivers – Amu Darya and Syr Darya – to the nearby desert to help in irrigation activities.
And that started the catastrophe that we are witnessing now. The huge Sea was reduced to four lakes by 1997. As you saw in the 2015 photo above, Aral Sea is no more.
So what has been the impact of the vanished Aral Sea on the region? You can see them in these photographs:
The Aral Sea as it looks now.
Ships like this one dot the entire landscape of the Aral Sea now.
The first blow was delivered to the fishing industry, which came to a close resulting in loss of employment and an economic crisis for the countries that shared a border with the Sea. The absence of the Aral Sea has led to environmental changes in the region making summers warmer and winters colder.
The Soviets also used an island on the sea for making bioweapons including anthrax.
Their weapons-making activities resulted in a smallpox incident that killed 10 people and necessitated for the vaccination of 50,000 others in 1971. Threat from the manufacturing base, which was abandoned in 1992, remained till 2002.
The Soviet facility for producing bioweapons on the island of Vozrozhdeniye in Uzbekistan’s side of Aral Sea. DeExtinctionClub
Today, the Aral Sea is a vast desert which has become a graveyard of ships. Perhaps sadder than the fact that an entire sea has vanished into thin air is the international attempt at exploring oil and natural gas in the region. Though it will of course contribute to the economic progress of the region, but environmentalists and planners would note that Earth has paid a price for a loss because of man’s activities.