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”A veteran water engineer from Dashoguz, the province where the lake is located, gave a vivid description of the possible outcome.
“Imagine a children’s sandpit, and a huge tanker truck begins pouring water into it,” he said. This is how the Kararakum [desert] will look in 30 or 40 years if drainage waters are collected there.”An excavator driver working on the reservoir confirmed that the sandy terrain made a poor foundation.
“Since independence [in 1991] they’ve been taking more than the agreed volumes of water out of the Amu Darya.
“It would be possible to use satellite imagery to monitor the removal of fresh water from the Amu Darya via these collection canals. To the frustration of local ecological activists, the Uzbek authorities have not offered much opposition to their neighbour’s giant water project – in stark contrast to their vocal hostility to hydroelectric dam projects upstream in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
A scientist based in Karakalpakstan noted this contrast in behaviour, saying, “The Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan is playing along with the Turkmen, even conducting joint studies of water resources in the Amu Darya basin. Our people are demanding an international ecological feasibility study of plans to build dams in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, yet Tashkent isn’t demanding the same thing for the Turkmen lake.” The environmentalist from Karakalpakstan added, “Uzbekistan depends on the waters of the Amu Darya…
“The old time bomb [Sarykamysh] is about to go off – why plant a new one?Across the border in Uzbekistan, environmentalists in Khorezm region and the Karakalpakstan autonomous republic are looking on in horror.They are only too aware of the ecological catastrophe caused by the shrinking of the Aral Sea over recent decades, caused by over-use of the waters of the Amu Darya and Central Asia’s other great river, the Syr Darya.The Turkmen government has been reticent about giving precise numbers for project spending.
In 2002, a figure of four billion dollars was cited, later rising to 6.5 billion.“Now that so much money has been put into it, there’s no going back, and construction work will be completed regardless of the cost,” said an anonymous staff member at Turkmenistan’s ministry for water resources.This was a direct result of intensive cotton production, a grand project of the Soviet era.