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Land and Resources, Environmental Issues

Amu Darya, saltwater lake, saline soil, desertification, national budget

Turkmenistan suffers from a number of serious environmental problems, many of which stem from decades of economic mismanagement under Soviet planning. Excessive irrigation has severely degraded soil and water quality in Turkmenistan. Irrigation of the naturally saline soil has brought underground salts to the surface, making the soil even more saline while also making irrigation more necessary. Thus, excessive irrigation has contributed to desertification (a process whereby arable land becomes desert, or arid salt flats). In addition, Turkmenistanís soil has become heavily contaminated with agricultural chemicals, such as pesticides and herbicides, that are applied in large doses to cotton crops. These agricultural chemicals also contaminate the water supply, mainly through irrigation runoff. Untreated wastewater also pollutes groundwater, although there has been some improvement in northern Turkmenistan since the 1995 opening of a new water-treatment plant near Dashowuz, constructed with aid from the United States. Since the late 1980s environmental awareness has been growing in Turkmenistan. The government has a ministry in charge of environmental protection, but only a small portion of the national budget is allocated for this purpose.

Turkmenistan is also involved in a regional effort to address the problem of the Aral Sea. This saltwater lake in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan has shrunk to less than half of its former size since the early 1960s. The greatest single contributor to the drying of the Aral is Turkmenistanís Garagum Canal, which receives more water from the Amu Darya (one of two inflow sources for the Aral) than any other irrigation structure in the Aral Sea basin. The drying of the Aral Sea is considered one of the worst ecological disasters in the world.

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