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Aral Sea Almost DRIED UP: UN Chief Calls It 'Shocking Disaster'
Once the world's fourth-largest lake, the sea has shrunk by 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.
Ban toured the sea by helicopter as part of a visit to the five countries of former Soviet Central Asia. His trip included a touchdown in Muynak, Uzbekistan, a town once on the shore where a pier stretches eerily over gray desert and camels stand near the hulks of stranded ships.
"On the pier, I wasn't seeing anything, I could see only a graveyard of ships," Ban told reporters after arriving in Nukus, the nearest sizable city and capital of the autonomous Karakalpak region.
"It is clearly one of the worst disasters, environmental disasters of the world. I was so shocked," he said.
The Aral Sea catastrophe is one of Ban's top concerns on his six-day trip through the region and he is calling on the countries' leaders to set aside rivalries to cooperate on repairing some of the damage.
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