Resolution for international recognition of the severe
human health consequences from the ecological and socio-economic crises in the
Aral Sea Region
Discussed and approved at the 8th ISDE World Assembly (Amsterdam, 1998)
The Aral Sea is considered to be one of the most extensive human-made ecological catastrophes in modern time. Unsustainable water use and heavy pollution have led to ecological and socio-economic disruptions. The already severe health situation in the region has been aggravated by the recent economic depression within the former Soviet Union.
The Aral Sea has shrunken to less than half of its size before 1960. The water loss has been caused by large-scale dams and irrigation systems constructed to meet the demands from the increasing cotton production in the region. Water has also been withdrawn from the Aral Sea Basin for industrial needs. An increased salinization of the sea has occurred and the south part of the sea is now considered dead. The fish industry has declined. The former sea bottom is exposed to wind erosion. Frequent dust storms are common. Large quantities of previously fertile agricultural land are now covered with salt and sand. Ground water levels have dropped and the salt concentration in the drinking water has increased.
The water in the Aral Sea Basin contains high levels of heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and other toxic compounds, deriving from pesticide, defoliants and fertilizer in the run-off from the irrigation canals, and untreated industrial and domestic wastewater. The dust storms also contain toxic compounds, which have accumulated in the soil and food chains. The health of the human population is being threatened by the contamination water, air, soil and locally produced food.
There is a need for improved epidemiological data to determine links between environmental factors and health effects in the region. Recent reports indicate a very high prevalence of anaemia in pregnant women. Kidney disorders are common during pregnancy. Miscarriages, congenital anomalies and infant mortality are higher than average. In children kidney, respiratory, gastrointestinal and skin disorders are prevalent. The diminishing healthcare resources and the difficult economical situation also contribute to an increasing morbidity in the general population.
The International Society of Doctors for the Environment, ISDE, calls for an international action to improve the health of children and women living in the region. The severe situation calls for assistance from governmental and non-governmental organizations. A reliable system for monitoring the health.