With the staggering disappearance of the Aral Sea, climate change has claimed one of its most devastating casualties. The Sea may be all but gone, but its local inhabitants are not. Back in 2018, the government of Uzbekistan launched a huge campaign to plant trees on the dried-up bed of the Aral Sea. To improve the ecological and socio-economic situation in the region, afforestation- the introduction of trees to an environment where none previously existed- serves as a potentially vital barrier to stabilize the soil from wind erosion and, prevent the toxic sandstorms that have plagued Karakalpakstan with health problems.
Through a joint project, “Addressing the urgent human insecurities in the Aral Sea region through promoting sustainable rural development”, UNDP and UNESCO are working to enhance the technical and institutional capacity of the Takhtakopir Forestry Department in Karakalpakstan for a successful afforestation process. The joint project is currently delivering 2 mobile wagons with container trailers, 7 agricultural machines (rotary mounted mower, 4-wheeled tractor trailer, excavator-bulldozer, etc.), a welding machine, storage tanks on wheels for water and petrol, a diesel generator and electric heaters. This equipment is intended to create more favourable working conditions for the foresters. Radiophones for fieldwork communication, a truck for transportation of saxaul seedlings, tarpaulin for storage and segregation of seeds, and tents and ovens for workers living in the field have also been supplied.
Saxaul is one of several drought-resistant plants being deployed on a large scale to protect the soil and reduce excess evaporation, improving the local microclimate. The special agricultural machinery and mobile wagons supplied by UNDP/UNESCO will be used to develop 150 hectares of saxaul in the dry-bed of the Aral Sea, 49 hectares of nursery to produce more seedlings, and further planting around the vicinity of the regional Forestry headquarters.
Besides this, the project hopes to strengthen the evidence-based approaches and international best practices of effective afforestation techniques. For this, the project organized two, in-depth expeditions to the Aral Sea. These afforestation efforts are expected to improve the durability of local land and to promote climate-resilient landscape management of drylands and ecosystems. Together, these will ensure better health and socioeconomic conditions for the local population. In September-October 2020, this joint project aims to enhance the region-wide technical expertise of Karakalpakstan’s State Forestry Committee by organizing a series of trainings for 100 afforestation specialists from the Committee.
In one line our Green Aral Sea initiative will raise awareness of the Aral Sea disaster, and the efforts made to mitigate its consequences. It will also pilot a new fundraising approach for improving quality of life in the region.
There is much to be done, but we are headed in the right direction by pursuing such unusual- but potentially transformative- activities as turning the depleted Aral Sea into a forest.