Ambassador Krol visits Karakalpakstan and the Aral Sea
On November 8 and 9, U.S. Ambassador George Krol made his second official visit to the Karakalpakstan region and his first official visit to Moynak and the former Aral Sea. During his visit, environmental organizations outlined the current status of the Aral Sea and some of the efforts that both the government of Uzbekistan and international groups are engaged in to help mitigate the effects of the Sea’s deterioration.
In Nukus, the Ambassador met with Ubbinyaz Ashirbekov, Director of the Nukus Branch of the Executive Committee of the International Fund to Save the Aral Sea (IFAS). Ashirbekov laid out a bleak picture: less than one-third of the Aral Sea remains and vast salt flats surround its shrinking shoreline, contributing to yearly dust and salt storms which blow 70-120 million tons of debris into the air, affecting local residents and livestock. IFAS is currently engaged in an aforestation project aimed at preserving top soil and limiting dust storms as well as a freshwater lakes program to provide fishing income to local residents. In addition, efforts are being made to preserve the “saiga,” a native deer whose population has plummeted in recent years due to poaching. A one million hectare deer reserve is currently being established in Karakalpakstan.
In Moynak, the Ambassador visited the “ship graveyard” where the Aral Sea now lies 200 km from Moynak’s former port. Most of the region’s 29,000 residents now rely on agriculture and livestock for income, though the region is also hoping to grow small businesses and add to its tourism industry.
The Ambassador also visited two civil society groups to see the results of U.S. Embassy project funding. The Nazarkhan Village Council, represented by Amir Ernashev, a welder and inventor, developed an energy efficient stove that saves an average of 11 m³ gas per day. These more efficient stoves help to reduce the need for logging in local forests for daily cooking and heating needs. The Ambassador also visited the NGO Isenim, an organization that combats trafficking in persons. Director Natalya Abdullaeva explained that most of the cases Isenim sees involve labor trafficking to Kazakhstan or Russia because of the poor employment situation in Nukus. Her staff now uses a variety of tools to spread their message on the dangers of trafficking, including outreach in bazaars and bus stops, cell phone SMS messaging and social media.
Ambassador Krol inspecting saksaul plants on the former Aral Sea bed (U.S. Embassy photo)