Public health problems in the Aral Sea region

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After irrigation projects diverted water from the Aral Sea it began to dry up and left behind salts, other minerals and toxins in the soil. These not only contaminated the soil but also were picked up by winds and storms, and traveled to other areas, including over crop lands. This has led to increased health problems like respiratory diseases and cancers, among others. The change in the size of the Aral has also affected the local climate and resulted in increased occurrence and worsening of storms.[1]

Background[edit]

There is no doubt that the shrinking of the Aral Sea has resulted in health problems for the local community. However, there is debate as to what extent of these problems can be sourced to this environmental situation. The full effects could take a generation to fully materialize and patterns of health problems to show up. Some of the main reasons why the Aral sea area suffered greatly were from "over irrigation and water mismanagement." Environmental impacts resulting from the changes in the Aral Sea region that could affect human health are "the salinization of the water table, pesticides in the environment and food chain, dust storms and air quality."[2]

In the Uzbek region years of mono culture agriculture of cotton fields left soils depleted of naturally occurring minerals and nutrients. This eventually led to an increased use of pesticides and fertilizers to try and counter these new soil deficiencies. However, these increased chemicals found their way into the soils, water, and finally the Aral sea.[3] These types of agricultural activities have also "resulted in widespread soil erosion, chemical pollution, and poor water quality and quantity." [4]

Effects on Infant Mortality Rates[edit]

As the sea dries up the contaminants become exposed on the surface and enter into the soil while also being blown into the air. These environmental impacts have had wide ranging effects on health of local residents. Increases in the occurrence of many diseases and conditions have been noted and linked to the shrinking of the Aral. Facing the highest risk from exposure to contaminants and toxins are infants and children. This has contributed to an increasing infant mortality rate in the area. According to Newbold the infant mortality rate is defined as "the number of deaths of infants younger than one year of age per one thousand births." [5]

Infant Mortality rates have been increasing in this region since the 70's, while elsewhere in the world it has generally been going down.[6] For residents of the Aral sea region living there has led to high "exposure to industrial pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) compounds and heavy metals but also to pesticides."[7] This phenomenon leading to increased infant mortality rates has been reported as high as 70 in Kazakhstan as of 1993.[7] Toxins can come from all sources including breathing them in from the air, drinking water, and food. However, a new baby does not have much choice about what to eat or drink. It has been found that these contaminants can be passed down through breast feeding and "in a number of areas the physicians recommend against breast feeding babies, as the nursing mothers milk is toxic." [3]

As seen in Table 1, other surrounding countries and areas have also experienced an increase in infant mortality rates. Although there are many other factors that contribute to infant mortality rates, the environmental state in the area has a definite influence on increasing rates. When compared with developed countries these rates can illustrate differences in health care and access to health care between the areas.

Table 1: Infant Mortality Rates, 1985 -2008[8][edit]

1985-1990 1990-1995 1995-2000 2004 2008
Afghanistan 170 160 152 165 163
Kazakhstan 36 35 35 52 29
Kyrgyzstan 45 40 40 42 50
Turkmenistan 58 55 55 74 74
Uzbekistan 53 44 44 62 48
Tajikistan 58 57 57 50 65
United Kingdom 5.3 4.9
Canada 5.2 5.4
USA 6.7 6.6

List of Adverse Health Effects[edit]

In Turkmenistan alone, 50% of all reported illnesses in children are related to respiratory system difficulties.[9] The effects of this situation are far reaching and affect people in a wide range of ailments. Following is a list of health problems contributing to high infant mortality, death, and lower standard of living in the Aral Sea area:

Solutions[edit]

A large concern of remediation of the area is the reduction of the blowing salt and minerals from the exposed sea bed. Some solutions include constructing dikes to control water flows and restricting the water amounts diverted for irrigation. However, the health effects have already been felt and will continue to be present for a long time even if the situation is turned around in the very near future.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Micklin, P. P. (1988). Disiccation of the Aral Sea: A Water Management Disaster in the Soviet Union. Science. 241(4870), 1172 & 1175.
  2. ^ a b c Small, I., Van Der Meer, J., & Upshur, R. E. G. (2001). Acting on an Environmental Health Disaster: The Case of the Aral Sea. Environmental Health Perspectives. 109(6), 547 & 548.
  3. ^ a b c Precoda, N. (1991). Requiem for the Aral Sea. Ambio. 20(3/4), 113.
  4. ^ Franz, J. S. & FitzRoy, F. (2006). Child Mortality and Environment in Developing Countries. Population and Environment. 27(3), 264.
  5. ^ Newbold, K.B. (2007). Six Billion Plus: World Population in the Twenty-First Century. 2nd Edition. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield. 2.
  6. ^ Zhiming, B. , Norio, I., Yoshiaki, K., Ariyoshi, K., Kunio, M., Tomokazu, O. & Otsuka Kenji. (2006). Inner Asia: Balancing the Environment with Socioeconomic Development. The State of the Environment in Asia 2005/2006. 167.
  7. ^ a b c Kiessling, K. L. (1998). Conference on the Aral Sea: Women, Children, Health and Environment. Ambio. 27(7). 562.
  8. ^ Population Reference Bureau. (2004). 2004 World Population Data Sheet. Retrieved from http://www.prb.org/pdf04/04WorldDataSheet_ENG.pdf. Population Reference Bureau. (2008). 2008 World Population Data Sheet. Retrieved from http://www.prb.org/pdf08/08WPDS_Eng.pdf., United Nations: Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (n.d.). Infant mortality rates, 1985-1990, 1990-1995 and 1995-2000 and mortality under age 5 years, 1990-1995 and 1995-2000. Retrieved from http://www.unescap.org/esid/GAD/Statistics/Women%20Statistics%201999/table2.4.pdf
  9. ^ Wiggs, G.F.S., O'Hara, S. L., Wegerdt, J., Van Der Meer, J., Small, I., & Hubbard, R. (2003). The Dynamics and Characteristics of Aeolian Dust in Dryland Central Asia: Possible Impacts on Human Exposure and Respiratory Health in the Aral Sea Basin. The Geographical Journal. 169(2), 143.