KAZAKHSTAN: Dyke project to save part of the Aral Sea
Scores of ships lie standed in what was once the fourth largest lake in the world
Ankara, 20 August 2003 (IRIN) - With the help of the World Bank, Kazakhstan seeks to secure the survival of the northern section of the Aral Sea by improving ecological and environmental conditions in its delta area by means of constructing a dyke and stimulating additional flows into that part of the sea, now a zone of ecological disaster.
"The Aral Sea is in a critical condition and it has actually divided into three parts, two main parts - the Northern Aral Sea (NAS) and the Southern Aral Sea (SAS)," Amirkhan Kenchimov, the deputy head of the water resources agency at the Kazakh agriculture ministry, told IRIN, noting that the SAS had split into two sections along a north-south axis. The whole of the NAS was within the territory of Kazakhstan, he noted.
"We want to regulate the river-bed of Syrdar'ya and to construct the dyke in order to preserve the NAS," the Kazakh official said, explaining that more water would be channelled into the NAS in order to create a normal expanse of water, with the ultimate goal of enhancing biodiversity and improving living conditions for local people.
Kenchimov told IRIN that a delegation from the agriculture ministry headed by Vice-Minister Akylbek Kurushbaev had been in Kyzyl-Ordinskaya Province last week to inspect the progress of construction work on the Kok-Aral dyke, the Aklak dam and the Aytek weir.
"The construction works are under way on these sites," Kenchimov said, adding that the total cost of the project would be at least US $86 million, with one-third of the total allocated from the state budget of Kazakhstan and the rest met by a World Bank loan. He said the Russian Zarubezhvodstroy company was constructing the dyke and the dam, while the China Geo-Engineering company was handling the weir.
Kenchimov said that whereas his ministry was generally satisfied with the performance of the Chinese contractor, the Zarubezhvodstroy company was well behind the schedule. He noted, however, that the Russian contractor was bringing in more equipment, and its team was using two to three shifts in order to catch up with the schedule.
Kenchimov went on to say that after the construction of the dyke, the surface area of the NAS would increase by between 20 percent and 25 percent. However, this would not solve the whole problem, he added, noting that there were discussions about raising the water level to some point at which the sea would cover some 80 percent of its original area. "It is not an approved project, but we think about it at the moment and the ways to accomplish that," he said.
However, since 1994, when the project was initially launched, the water regime of the Syrdar'ya river has changed greatly. Whereas before, the reservoirs were operated on an irrigation regime, now the Toktogul reservoir (in southern Kyrgyzstan) was mainly working on the energy regime - saving water to be used in electricity generation in winter - which had caused a great change in the river's hydrology.
According to the World Bank, the Syrdar'ya Control and NAS Phase I Project seeks to sustain and increase agriculture and fish production in the Syrdar'ya basin, and secure the existence of the NAS by improving ecological and environmental conditions in the delta area. Project components include expansion of the area covered by the NAS by way of constructing a closure dyke in the NAS, and channelling additional flows into it, as well improving the hydraulic control of the Syrdar'ya and diverting downstream flows towards the delta ecosystem to further restore the NAS.