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Uzbekistan: Moynaq village faces the Aral Sea disaster

© UNICEF Uzbekistan
Karakalpakstan boys standing in what used to be the Aral Sea

The impact of the Aral Sea disaster has had a devastating affect on the lives of the people of Moynaq in Karakalpakstan.

This town was once the centre of a large fishing and fish-canning industry, employing more than 30,000 people. However, as the sea dried up, so did the employment and livelihood opportunities for the population. Now, like many others in Karakalpakstan, they face the threat of increased illness and disease, malnutrition, immunological problems and birth defects. A resident of Moynaq tells his story.

Santyula’s story

“Suw… Suw… Suw” says Santyula tapping on the ground with his cane.  “Suw.  That’s all that matters.  Suw. That’s all we want!”

Suw is the local term for water, a commodity, that was once the lifeblood of Moynaq, Karakalpakstan. There was water all around the fishing village, but now the water is 150 kilometers away. 

Seventy-year old Santyula’s started helping his father with fishing when he was just 17 years old. He later worked for forty years in the fish-canning factory. A boat would haul in around 200-300 kgs of fish a day.

“We started noticing a change in the waters around the 60s” says Santyula.  Showing the level up to his chest he says, “The water used to come here when we were at the shore..and then slowly by slowly it began going down. By the 80s the sea was gone from here”. The life of the Aral sea depended upon the Amu Darya river. “Now there is no water in the river, and there is no sea”. All that remains are the rusting hulks of stranded tankers and trawlers. 

Now the residents of Moynaq rely on a few wells for their household needs. “Only some of these wells, and the pumps that the government installed have sweet water,” says Santyula. “The rest are salty. If there is water we can plant crops, our animals will be better fed… our lives will be better. If there is no water, there is no life.”

Already there is a lot of migration to Nukus and beyond. “People, children are forced to leave the place they were born,the place they grew up,” continues Santyula. “There are no jobs here, there is nothing to eat.  Now they are all going…Lord knows where they will go, how they will live”

Although the water has gone, the people have not been forgotten.

The lives of the people of Karakalpakstan suffered further as a result of continous drought in 2001 and 2002. In the most affected areas, access to safe drinking water, household food stocks and funding for social welfare were reduced dramatically. creating a crisis for the vulnerable.

A grant from the Government of Japan helped address the immediate problems caused by the drought, whilst UNICEF and the government are working in the Karakpakstan region on long-term projects to improve water resources and help future generations to remain in their region.

For more information:

Bobur Turdiev,  Communication Officer, UNICEF Uzbekistsan.  Tel: (998 71) 133 95 12, email:



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