Policies for mitigating the Aral Sea’s problems

Cotton cultivation

The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has been cooperating with UNESCO since 1992 on two consecutive projects to help the countries around the Aral Sea assess and mitigate damage to the Sea’s ecosystems.

The first project from 1993 to 1999 got under way after BMBF asked UNESCO to manage a scientific research programme to support and network 140 Kazakh, Uzbek, Turkmen and Russian scientists working on 20 sub-projects related to the problems of the Aral Sea. The payment of stipends, coupled with the cost of equipping three existing research centres and setting-up new ones in Kazlinsk and Muniak in the northern and southern deltas of the Aral Sea respectively, called for BMBF funding totaling US$ 1.2 million.

For the second project, BMBF proposed in 2001 a focus on rational water and land use in the region of Khorezm in Uzbekistan. This ongoing project was developed by the Centre for Development Research at Bonn University in Germany, in close cooperation with UNESCO and Urgench State University in Uzbekistan. The ultimate aim is to provide sound, science-based policy recommendations for moving towards sustainable land and water resource management, while at the same time improving rural livelihoods by making agriculture more efficient.

Specifically, the idea behind the second project is to devise a science-based plan for restructuring three interlocking actors in resource management: policies, institutions and technologies. The long-term programme blends applied scientific research with the restructuring of management to support the development of informed, consistent agricultural policies at both the national and regional levels. These policies will then be implemented thanks to an institutional restructuring to make institutions better-equipped to promote the sustainable use of natural resources. At the technical management level, integrated technology packages in land and water use will be introduced.

To date, the major outputs of the second project are policy recommendations, scientific publications and academic capacity-building. More than 20 scientific articles have been published in the international press. In addition, four Uzbek students have been awarded a PhD from Bonn University.

A new phase of the project kicked off in 2006. During this phase, the integrated concept developed by science policy experts for restructuring land use is being tested in real-life situations on farms and at institutions in Khorezm and Tashkent.

BMBF plans to wind up the project in 2010. By this time, it will have invested a total of US$ 10 million in the Aral Sea project over nearly two decades.

For details, contact the project coordinator

See also the interview of Prof. Severiskiy from Kazakhstan’s Institute of Geography, on the reasons for Central Asia’s water woes (A World of Science, April 2007, ENG, FRE, RUS, SPA)

Photos of the Aral Sea taken in Kazakhstan in 2006

Aral sea 1989

Aral sea 2003


(Source of satellite images: NASA. Click on image to enlarge)

The Aral Sea in 1989 (left) and 2003. It was once the fourth-largest lake in the world. Today, it is just one-quarter its size half a century ago. In a last-ditch restoration effort, Kazakhstan used World Bank funding in 2003 to build a dam separating the smaller, less polluted, salty northern Aral Sea from the southern part, deemed irretrievable. This construction was recommended by UNESCO consultant Professor Nikolai Aladin from the Institute of Zoology at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg, within the framework of the UNESCO–BMBF project. Since completion of the dam in mid-2005, the northern Aral Sea seems to have been filling up more rapidly than expected. Once again, people can fish in the Aral Sea.

Back to top