Documentary shows dramatic shrinking of the Aral Sea

21st September 2010, Comments 0 comments

A new documentary which premiered Tuesday at a film festival in Spain graphically depicts the dramatic dessication of the Aral Sea in Central Asia.

"Aral, the Lost Sea," combines archive footage from the Soviet era with present-day images to show how the Sea is drying up.

The film, by acclaimed Spanish director Isabel Coixet for the "We Are Water Foundation," was shown at the San Sebastian film festival.

Once the world's fourth-largest inland body of water but now a byword for ecological calamity, the Aral Sea has been retreating over the last half-century after rivers that fed it were diverted for Soviet cotton irrigation projects.

Around two decades ago, it split into the Small Aral Sea in the north, located in Kazakhstan, and the Large Aral Sea, shared by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Today it is covers half of its original area of 66,000 square kilometres (25,500 square miles), and the volume of water has been reduced to a quarter, said the Foundation, an organisation that seeks "to enable the equitable development and sustainable management of the world's water resources."

The dessication has changed the climate conditions of the region and the quality of the water that remains and led to chronic illness, it said.

"The region has the highest infant mortality rate in all of the former USSR," and "chronic bronchitis has increased by 3,000 percent and arthritis 6,000 percent, and in part of Uzbekistan" liver cancer has increased 200 percent, the Foundation said.

And that "in a relatively short period of time" and with the international community "almost completely unaware" until satellite images from the US space agency NASA revealed the extent of the disaster in 2003.

Narrated in English by British actor Ben Kingsley and with part of the music from a new album produced by American actor Tim Robbins, both friends of Coixet, "Aral, the Lost Sea" was shown in the festival's "New paths of nonfiction" section.

Coixet said the documentary "has two functions: teaching" and a "to get money for the Foundation."

"It is impossible to restore the sea, but at least you can do other things in other parts of the world," she told AFP.

She said the 25-minute work was made by three people during a month in Uzbekistan.

Coixet, who made the dramas "Elegy" with Kingsley and Penelope Cruz and "Map of the Sounds of Tokyo", said she is planning a new work for "next year if all goes well" which will be shot "in Spain and in a neighbouring country."

© 2010 AFP

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