Cancer town on the edge of extinction town ing claims town lives comes to town ath Poison is killing off a town

Pollution/ a horrific study

POLLUTION is killing the entire population of a town on what used to be the shores of Russia's dying Aral Sea, a startling health survey has found.

Nearly three-quarters of the people of Muynak, which stands at the southern end of the sea, show signs of developing cancer, according to a study by the Institute of Clinical and Environmental Medicine in the nearby town of Nukus. Cancer of the oesophagus, in particular, has reached epidemic proportions.

One in every 10 of the remaining 2,000 people of the town are reported to be dying each year, so that the entire population could be wiped out within a generation.

The impending extinction of Muynak, which stands in what was once the fertile delta of the Amu Darya river, is just the most dramatic manifestation of an epidemic of disease and death that has hit the entire region around the southern end of the sea as it has rapidly disappeared.

In 1958 Soviet engineers began to divert most of the water of the Amu Darya, and the sea's other main river, the Syr Darya, into the Karakum Kyzylkum deserts to grow cotton and rice for export. By 1990, the Aral Sea had lost 60 per cent of its water; now it has split into three highly saline lakes.

Muynak used to be an island in the once-generous delta. By 1962, four years after the diversions began, the island had become a peninsula. By 1970 the sea had receded six miles from the former port. A decade later this had stretched to 25 miles. Now it is more than 43 miles distant across a trackless wasteland.

The shrinking of the sea has changed the local climate.There are more storms in winter and they tear across what used to be the sea-bed, scouring out salt and pesticide residues and flinging them across the entire region. The area is also blighted by radiation from the testing of nuclear bombs in the region during the Fifties and Sixties.

A health survey of the Russian republic of Kara-Kalpakskaya - whose 1.2 million population lives around the southern end of the sea - has shown that, in little more than 10 years, chronic bronchitis has increased 30- fold, kidney and liver diseases (including cancers) by up to 40-fold, and arthritic diseases have soared by 60 times.

Dr Oral Ataniyazova, director of the republic's Centre for Human Reproduction and Family Planning, who carried out the survey, thinks that most of the region's diseases are environmentally induced. She says: "We have high levels of heavy metals, salts and other toxic substances in our drinking water supplies, and the bulk of our vegetables are contaminated by pesticides such as DDT, which is still used here in great quantities."

As a result, she says; "Our people are dying like flies. Kara-Kalpakskaya has the highest levels of maternal and infant mortality in the former Soviet Union. More than 20 per cent of our young women, aged 13 to 19, have kidney diseases. Another 23 per cent suffer from thyroid dysfunctions. And many women have high levels of lead, zinc and strontium in their blood."

At Muynak, former fisherman Jasmurad Kenesbay, gazing out over what used to be the Aral Sea from a high ridge at the edge of the town, says: "As the sea dies, so does this town. Our entire economy has been destroyed, and so have our lives."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk