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A view of the ships cemetery in Muynak
A view of the ships cemetery in Muynak, a former port city, during United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's visit April 4, 2010. Ban called on Central Asian states to work together to tackle the disastrous effects of the shrinking Aral Sea on Sunday after local people urged the United Nations to resolve a regional dispute. Much of the former bed of what was once the world's fourth largest lake is now a desert covered with scrub and salt flats.Reuters
A close-up of the dry and salted soil of the Aral sea near the village of Karateren, southwestern Kazakhstan
Once the world's fourth largest lake, the Aral has shrunk so much that it has now split into two separate bodies of water. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been running an Aral Sea Programme since 1995, focusing mainly on water resources management, small business development, humanitarian assistance and a social and health programme as the ecological disaster of the dying sea has brought about a host of associated health problems.Reuters
View of Aral Sea in 2000
In 2000, the lake was already a fraction of its 1960 extent (black line). The Northern Aral Sea (sometimes called the Small Aral Sea) had separated from the Southern (Large) Aral Sea. The Southern Aral Sea had split into eastern and western lobes that remained tenuously connected at both ends.Nasa Earth Observatory
View of Aral Sea in 2003
By 2003 it showed rapid retreat of the Sea’s southern half, which was now separated into a western and eastern half.Nasa Earth Observatory
View of Aral Sea in 2006
Between 2005 and 2006, the water levels in that part of the lake rebounded significantly and very small increases are visible throughout the rest of the time period.Nasa Earth Observatory
View of Aral Sea in 2009
Significant changes can be seen, with depletion of water and land covering the area.Nasa Earth Observatory
View of Aral Sea in 2011
A drier Aral Sea is visible here. Even if efforts were made to restore the Southern Aral Sea, Nasa claims it is unlikely that the it could recover in the near term. More than 50 percent of the flow of the Amu Darya would have to enter the southern Aral Sea to bring it back to life.Nasa Earth Observatory

This is a warning to the world... to preserve their natural resources before they destroy their lands.

What was once the world's fourth-largest lake has now turned into a desert!

Abandoned rusty ships lie derelict on cracked, sandy soil, as camels slowly trudge past.

The Aral Sea once had a flourishing fishing industry that employed roughly 60,000 people during the early 1960s; this figure reportedly shrunk by 90 per cent over the next 50 years, in what has been called as one of the planet's most "shocking environmental disasters". By 1977, fish harvest declined 75 per cent and by the early 1980s, it disappeared, according to a study from NASA.

The main cause of the drought was the water diversion project instituted by the former Soviet Union, on the arid plains of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The region's two major rivers, fed by melting snow and precipitation in faraway mountains, were used to transform the desert into fields capable of growing cotton and other crops.

The problem was that the irrigation practices led to the devastation of the Aral Sea. It also had a noticeable effect on the region's climate. The harvest season became shorter and shorter, causing farmers to switch from cotton to rice, which demands even more water to grow.

In his visit in April, the former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, advised central Asian leaders to step up efforts to solve the problem.

"it is clearly one of the worst disasters, environmental disasters of the world. I was so shocked," he was quoted as saying in the Daily Mail.

However, Philip Micklen, a geographer who has been studying the Aral Sea for decades, has been quoted on NASA's Earth Observatory Web site as saying it won't dry up completely. His argument is that the sea is still fed by water from traditional sources, as well as irrigation run-off and ground water.

Unfortunately, the point is that so wonderfully large a water resource ought to have been more carefully used... it is little solace that the Aral Sea will not completely dry up (if that is indeed accurate)... it did not deserve to shrink to the size it has.

Check out these photographs showing the shrinking of the Aral Sea over the years...