National Geographic : 2015 Jun
Aral Sea 129 the Amu Darya and Syr Darya trace their courses through several different countries, and each claims ownership of the waters that flow through its territory. In hopes of working together to solve Central Asia’s chronic water shortage, the Stans in 1992 formed the Inter- state Commission for Water Coordination. Its discussions tend to revolve around two cen- tral questions: Who owns the water, and what responsibility do the upstream countries have to protect the resource for those downstream? In the case of the Aral Sea, the inhabitants of Karakalpakstan, one of Uzbekistan’s poorest regions, appear to have no say about what hap- pens to the water of the Amu Darya upstream, as other countries lay claim to it. “This is dis- crimination due to geographic location,” says Kamalov. “That water belongs to the Aral.” Every expert I interviewed predicted that Uzbekistan’s portion of the Aral Sea would not be refilled in any foreseeable human time frame. It’s a point Kamalov seems resigned to. He loathes the policy that is killing the sea of his homeland. But he confesses that when the fall cotton harvest arrives in a few weeks, he will perform his national service, just as he has done every fall for 50 years. (According to Swerdlow, who directed the Uzbekistan office of Human Rights Watch until the government expelled the organization in late 2010, if Kamalov failed to “volunteer,” he could be fired from his job or arrested.) “No one is exempt,” Kamalov notes. “You can be 90 years old with one eye and one leg and you still must pick.” Worried about publishing Kamalov’s frank comments, I ask him, again, if he is comfort- able going on the record. “In Karakalpakstan we are all afraid of Tashkent,” he replies, re- ferring to the Uzbek capital. “And personally, I’m sick of it.” j “Now instead of water vapor in the atmosphere, we have toxic dust,” says Yusup Kamalov, as he grimly downs a vodka shot.