Medieval Islamic writings call the Amu and Syr Darya in Central Asia two of the four rivers of Paradise. The water they yield has sustained human life for 40,000 years, providing pastures for nomadic herders, irrigation for farmers, and enabling the development of culture, trade, language, literature, and in parallel, a succession of wars and imperial conquests from east and west over the centuries.
During the twentieth century, the Soviet government transformed the rivers into a web of irrigation canals that diverted such large quantities of water that the Aral Sea - once the world's fourth largest lake - began to disappear, leaving salt and dust storms in its place. When Moscow's rule ended in 1991, the five new Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan appeared. They are burdened with plunging economies, artificial borders, and a growing environmental crisis.
This project follows the Amu and Syr Darya from their source in the Pamir and Tien Shen mountains, downstream, and across borders to their dwindling ends at the Aral Sea basin. I am looking at the landscapes and people whose lives are affected by the region's water troubles. Without viewing broad picture of the region in the context of history, economy, culture, and politics, this growing and little known environmental crisis cannot be fully understood.
The water that nourishes the whole region comes from melting glaciers and snow in the mountains of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. During Soviet times, decisions about sharing of resources were made by the central government in Moscow. Now, the countries are constantly disputing how the region's dams should be used. This is a reservoir above nurek dam in Tajikistan. The line along the shore indicates a low water level. The overall water supply will continue to diminish in the future.