This is a land without water.

Image from Arian Zwegers/Flickr.


Lines of old fishing boats sit abandoned.

Image from Arian Zwegers/Wikimedia Commons.

Decaying like ruins from a Percy Bysshe Shelly poem.

The water they once depended on is nowhere in sight.

Image from Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP/Getty Images.

Now there is just sand. And scrub. And the slow decay of time.

Image from Gilad Rom/Flickr.

This is the former Aral Sea.

Image by Russians in Central Asia/Wikimedia Commons.

The Aral Sea, which lies between Southern Kazakhstan and Northern Uzbekistan, was once one of the world's largest saltwater lakes. Tens of thousands of people fished in its waters, producing one-sixth of the Soviet Union's fish intake.

But decades of mismanagement have destroyed it.

Beginning in the 1960s, Soviet engineers diverted the rivers that fed the Aral Sea, using their water to irrigate vast agricultural projects. And, without water, the Aral slowly began to dry out and disappear.

GIF from NordNordWest/Wikimedia Commons.

Leaving behind nothing.

Image from Staecker/Wikimedia Commons.

This was once a harbor.

Nothing but ruins...

Image from AFP/Victor Vasenin/Getty Images.

... and dust ...

Image from Martijn.Munneke/Flickr.

...and poison.

Image from Sebastian Kluger/Wikimedia Commons.

As the waters receded, they left behind vast plains covered in salt and toxic chemicals. And without plant life to hold it in place, winds spread the noxious mix of pesticides, industrial runoff, and other chemicals into the air.

Cancer and illness are sadly common here.

The land has a new name now: the Aralkum Desert.

Image from upyernoz/Flickr.

But, among all this, there is a glimmer of good news.

Starting in the 1990s, the nations around the Aral Sea began working on restoration projects. And while many of these projects have ended in failure, a few have succeeded.

In Kazakhstan, the government built a massive dam, called Dike Kokaral, around one of the remnants of the original Aral Sea.

Image by Antoine Lambroschini/AFP/Getty Images.

The dam holds back water from one of the major rivers, sacrificing the larger basin's water supply in order to replenish a smaller area known as the North Aral Sea.

Because of Dike Kokaral, the North Aral Sea is rising again.

The black outline shows the original coastline. GIF from Sibom/Wikimedia Commons.

Fish stocks have returned as well, helping to revive the fishing industry.

Image by Antoine Lambroschini/AFP/Getty Images.

The water's return even affected the local climate, returning rain to the area. This is just a tiny modicum of healing in a gravely ill region. But it's something.

Water is a precious resource and it's easy to forget how much we depend on clean, accessible water. These images show what can happen when we disregard it.

The next time someone claims there's no way humans can affect the environment, show them the desert that was once a sea.