The Aral Sea in Central Asia, once the world’s fourth-largest inland water body, has nearly disappeared. Weather shifts from climate change coupled with decades of resource depletion from the regional reliance on water-intensive crops, has seen the body of water shrink to about one-tenth of its former size – a water surface area the size of Ireland now nothing but sand.
The Aral Sea basin spans the western reaches Uzbek-Kazakh border, and its degradation has taken with it the livelihoods and local economies of some 40 million people. Additionally, a formerly thriving fishing economy has been replaced with the growth of cotton, rice and other commodities that often receive toxic herbicides and pesticides, which have leached into the sea bed and led to a rise in infant mortality rates and cancer.
Restoring such a landscape requires creative innovation that is quick to deploy, affordable and applicable for use on a grand scale. The 2021 Global Disruptive Tech Challenge, hosted by the World Bank, the Kazakh-German University (DKU), the Global Landscapes Forum and other partners, aims to identify and support such technologies and approaches to solve this region’s challenges, awarding winners USD 4,000 and mentorship.
In the lead-up to the announcement of the Challenge’s winners, this GLF Live hosted a conversation between experts Vadim Sokolov and Kristina Toderich, discussing the state of the Aral Sea basin and exploring the solutions they believe can be most effective in its restoration.
Dr. Vadim Sokolov is a civil engineer in hydro construction. He serves as the head of agency for projects implementation of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, located in Uzbekistan, where he supervises the practical management and implementation of programs and projects (including construction works) related to solution of the Aral Sea basin problems. He is an active member of the International Water Resources Association (IWRA) and a board member of the Asia Water Council. For 12 years, Sokolov acted as the regional coordinator of the Global Water Partnership network for Central Asia and Caucasus. He graduated from the Tashkent Institute of Engineers of Irrigation and holds a PhD in hydrology from the Institute of Geography of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science.
Dr. Kristina Toderich is an international research, development and extension expert with more than 35 years of experience working on the improvement of the dryland ecosystem resilience and conservation of agrobiodiversity by resource-efficient, climate-smart crops and technologies in Aralo-Caspian countries (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, as well as Afghanistan and Azerbaijan). Since 2006, Dr. Toderich has worked as regional coordinator for the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture for Central Asia and Caucasus (ICBA-CAC). Currently, at the International Platform for Drylands Research and Education (IPDRE) at Japan’s Tottori University, she is working on soil-water-plant salinity dynamics modeling. She has provided technical consultancy various U.N. (UNAMA, FAO, USAID, UNESCO, UNDP), E.U. (CIRAD, GIZ), IDB, and other agencies on saline agriculture, livestock feeding systems, food and nutrition security, on gender and pastoralism community-based development. She holds PhDs from the Institute of Botany in Leningrad and the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology. She has authored 7 monographs and more than 320 publications. She is fluent in Romanian, Russia, French, English, and Uzbek.
The challenge is organized with the support of the Central Asia Water and Energy Program (CAWEP) a multi-donor Trust-Fund financed by the European Union, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The challenge is administered by the World Bank and will inform the Resilient Landscape Program in Central Asia RESILAND CA +, currently under preparation. It is implemented by the Kazakh-German University (DKU), the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) and Plug and Play (P&P).