(7 Apr 2019) LEADIN:
Once the fourth largest lake in the world, the Aral Sea has seen itself shrink to a slither of it's original size.
All it left in it's trail was dry arid land, which the Uzbek government are now trying to transform into fertile planting terrain in order to stop desertification.
Rusted ships in the desert near the town of Moynaq are silent reminders of the fate of the Aral Sea.
Once an important seaport, today Moynaq (Munak) is the victim of a manmade ecological catastrophe that took place here.
People left when the lake started to disappear, causing economic and health issues.
Now the city is dozens of kilometres from the shoreline of the the Aral Sea and just several thousand residents remain.
Desert covers 80 percent of the country and is spreading each year, due to chronic drought.
Once the world's fourth-largest lake, the sea has shrunk by at least 90 percent since the rivers that feed it were largely diverted in a Soviet project to boost cotton production in the arid region.
The shrunken sea has ruined the once-robust fishing economy and left fishing trawlers stranded in sandy wastelands, leaning over as if they dropped from the air.
The sea's evaporation has left layers of highly salted sand, which winds can carry as far away as Scandinavia and Japan, and which plague local people with health troubles.
A new initiative to counteract the effects of the harmful program is being supported by the Uzbek government.
Dean of the faculty of environment at Karakalpak State University, Yakub Amedov, is hoping that with the help of his students he can help to change the landscape of the land in Moynaq.
"Our main aim is to improve the environmental situation in the Moynaq region. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev supports any initiative of the development of the region. Now students of Karakalpak University are helping to plant the trees. Today we're planting plum, grapes, apple, apricot, cherry. In the future, we plan to make an educational site for students." he says.
According to NASA, at the beginning of the 1960s, the Aral Sea received 50 cubic kilometres of fresh water from snowmelt and rainfall. In 1980 that number fell to zero.
Since 1985 the Aral Sea has shrunk to a quarter of its original size.
One of the ways to stop the desertification is intensive planting, according to Vadim Sokolov, head of the agency for implementation of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea.
"One of the key ways to prevent the spreading of salt and chemicals that have accumulated from the Aral Sea is by tree planting and fixing the sand from the dried-up sea bed" Sokolov says.
Sokolov notes that they have managed to speed up the planting process hopefully setting the program at a faster pace.
"More than 500,000 tonnes of seeds were collected in December (2018) and January (2019) and with the help of these seeds today, the middle of March, more than 500,000 hectares can be planted. In the past we were planting 5-10 thousand hectares, now in only three months we have planted 500,000 hectares. We plan to continue this work in the autumn and we plan to plant around a million hectares of the territory. Which is almost a third of the desert, which is on the dried up sea bed."
Sokolov hopes to plant around a million hectares of the territory - that's one-third of the desert that once was a seabed.
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