During the 1960s the Soviet Union began irrigating the waters of the Aral Sea in southern Kazakhstan to combat their growing food crisis and in an effort to profit on rising cotton prices. The Soviets planners unfortunately gravely miscalculated the irrigation effect on environment and soon the water began receding from the port cities.
The waters continued to recede over the course of time. By 2000 the water was 80 km away from the Aralsk city which is a major seaport in Kazakhstan. Desertification has increased, along with public rates of respiratory diseases and cancers from salt and toxic-laden dusts.
The Aral Sea region is heavily polluted, with consequent serious public health problems. The retreat of the sea has reportedly also caused significant local climate change, with summers becoming hotter and drier and winters colder and longer. The growing season has been reduced to an average of 170 days a year, while increasing dust storms activity is seen more than 90 days per year.
Communities face great health issues because of the polluted environment. In Karakalpakstan drinking water is saline and highly polluted, with a strong content of metals such as strontium, zinc and manganese. The metals in question are responsible for a number of anaemia conditions reported. Statisticaly, during the last fifteen years locals witnessed a 3,000% increase in chronic bronchitis, in kidney and liver diseases, especially cancer. Arthritic diseases have increased 6,000%. Not surprisingly, the infant mortality rate is one of the world's highest.
Average life expectancy in the Kzyl-Orda region of Kazakhstan has declined from 64 to 51 years. Rates of anemia, tuberculosis, kidney and liver diseases, respiratory infections, allergies and cancer have particularly spiked in comparison to the surrounding area. Women and children are considered to be the most vulnerable. Maternal and infant morbidity is also significantly higher in Karakalpakstan and Kzyl-Orda than in other parts of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. High levels of infertility, miscarriages, complications during pregnancy and in birth have been observed in this region for more than 20 years, all because of the devastating effects of the Aral Sea destruction.