On the way to finding out the particulars of the Andijan Massacre, which happened in Uzbekistan on this date in 2005, I ran into some shocking information about the Aral Sea.
But first things first: about 1,500 people were killed by their own government while protesting peacefully in the small city of Andijan; although the government blamed the usual suspects (fundamentalists, terrorists, whatever), it was really just regular people demanding decent housing.
Uzbekistan carries on the traditions of the Soviet Republic to which it once belonged and so civil rights are, to say the least, limited. Although they are becoming a market economy, it’s in the framework of very strict controls. The average Uzbeki earns about a dollar and a quarter a day.
Under the Soviets, Uzbekistan was a big cotton producer. It still is – it’s about sixth in world production.
Cotton is a rapacious crop, demanding huge amounts of nutrients and lots of water. It can devastate land if it’s not rotated regularly. The Soviets imposed cotton demands on Uzbekistan that were all out of proportion to water and soil resources of the country and it’s still going on. Plenty of blame to go around.
Nutrients of course can be replaced by chemicals, but water is water. And there was the lovely Aral Sea, once the fourth-largest inland sea in the world, available to make up for a lack of rainfall.
The map of Uzbekistan above is typical of most current maps – the Aral Sea is the same large blue blob in the north of the country that it has always been. Time to wake up and smell the coffee, Uzbeks. Look at the NASA images:
What’s left is not just sand. The entire area is contaminated with pesticides and salts of fertilizer runoff. The Soviets did a lousy job and so are the Uzbeks. And so are the rest of us. Cheap cotton is expensive. Actually, everything is – oil isn’t the only thing the west uses way too lavishly.
Next time you think of throwing out old t-shirts, rethink it. Make them last a little longer, or donate them to a thrift shop and buy used. If you care, here’s a way to send a message to Uzbekistan: the following stores have been boycotting Uzbeki cotton for a while now – Tesco, C&A,Marks & Spencer, Gap, and H&M.
When the west – including the US -asked for an investigation of the Andijan massacre, Uzbekistan expressed its displeasure by closing our airbase there, making access to Afghanistan much harder. The government turned its face east, to Russia and China. China is no doubt happy to have all that cotton. Nobody seems to be worrying about the Aral Sea.