When it comes to man-made disasters it’s still hard to top the Aral Sea disaster (for now). Created by the Soviets to turn their annexed territories (the Stans of Central Asia) into productive cotton growing regions. And it worked.

Ships stranded on sand at Aral Sea, Moynaq, Uzbekistan

Ships stranded on sand at Aral Sea, Moynaq, Uzbekistan

They diverted rivers from the Tajik Pamirs to feed the thirsty crops and soak the arid lands of Uzbekistan & northern Turkmenistan.

BUT … in doing so they sapped the replenishing of river water vital to the Aral Sea.

Once the 4th largest inland body of water in the world.

RESULT = disaster.

Since the 1960s the sea has shrunk dramatically.

The fishing port town of Moynaq is now about 170 km from the shores of the Aral Sea.

Fish stocks are extremely low (due to increased salinity in water). No fishing, canning or ship-building industries have existed since the 1980s, leaving 1000s unemployed. Men leave for Russia and other regions to look for employment.

A once mild climate has changed. Shorter, hotter summers and longer, colder winters.

And along with a regular and unhealthy dose of salt, sand and dust storms are causing widespread respirary problems.

Ship stranded on sand at Aral Sea, Moynaq, Uzbekistan

Lonely ship stranded sand dunes at the Aral Sea, Moynaq, Uzbekistan

The day I visited it was freezing Siberian winds. Deserted, dusty blowing streets, teasing sleet, overcast skies. Occasional glimpses of the sun (around sunset).

The perfect brutish weather for this made-man hell-spot. Big blue, sunny skies didn’t seem right.

MRP adds to the Aral Sea disaster …

I drank a bottle of red wine (and later 1.5 litre of 7% beer) fight off the chill. There amid stranded, rusty, wrecked ships sitting in sand and scrub.

During the afternoon, I was joined by a couple of young lads who saw the ships as a great playground. Later a local wedding party turned up to pose at dead-sea vista point where the coast once was. Some group photos for a few freezing minutes.

I was invited to get in several vodka toasts. Which I did. From that point my memory deserted me – evaporating away into space like the emptying sea that I’d come to contemplate.

women of moynaq uzbekistan

Crammed in a mini-van with the women of Moynaq; the driver spoke English and talked about when he was a boy, swimming and fishing in the Aral Sea – that sea now over 150 km from Moynaq