Muynak is a city in northern Karakalpakstan in western Uzbekistan. Home to only a few thousand residents at most, Muynak's population has been declining precipitously since the 1980s due to the recession of the Aral Sea.
Once a bustling fishing community, Muynak is now a shadow of its former self, dozens of miles from the rapidly receding shoreline of the Aral Sea. Fishing had always been part of the economy of the region, and Muynak became a center of industrial fishing and canning. A regional agricultural monoculture dominated by cotton production which diverts water from tributary rivers of the sea into irrigation, and severe pollution caused by agricultural chemical runoff, are causing the sea to evaporate and the water that remains is highly saline and very toxic, causing the ecological disaster which is inevitably destroying the sea and killing the residents of the towns in its vicinity, including Muynak.
Muynak is now home to a incongruous armada of rusting hulks that once made up the proud fishing fleet during the Soviet era. Poisonous dust storms kicked up by strong winds across the dried and polluted seabed give rise to a multitude of chronic and acute illnesses among the few residents, weather unmoderated by the sea now buffets the town with hotter-than-normal summers and colder-than-normal winters.
The Aral Sea was once the world's fourth-largest saline body of water, it has been steadily shrinking since the 1960s, after the rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet Union irrigation projects. By 2004, the sea had shrunk to 25% of its original surface area, and a nearly fivefold increase in salinity had killed most of its natural flora and fauna. By 2007 it had declined to 10% of its original size, splitting into three separate lakes, two of which are too salty to support fish. The once prosperous fishing industry has been virtually destroyed, and former fishing towns along the original shores have become ship graveyards. With this collapse has come unemployment and economic hardship.
The disappearance of the lake was no surprise to the Soviets; they expected it to happen long before. As early as in 1964, Aleksandr Asarin at the Hydroproject Institute pointed out that the lake was doomed explaining, "It was part of the five-year plans, approved by the council of ministers and the Politburo. Nobody on a lower level would dare to say a word contradicting those plans, even if it was the fate of the Aral Sea."
Shrinkage of the Aral sea between 1989 and 2008
coordinates : 43°46'28.87"N 59°02'20.02"E
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