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The dynamics and characteristics of aeolian dust in dryland Central Asia: possible impacts on human exposure and respiratory health in the Aral Sea basin

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The drying up of the Aral Sea has been described as one of the most staggering environmental disasters of the twentieth century. Over the last 40 years over 36 000 km2 of the former seabed have been exposed, creating a potentially significant aeolian dust source. It is widely believed, but little researched, that increased dust storm activity in the region has had a major impact on human health. In this paper we report the findings of a study into the link between dust exposure and respiratory health amongst children in the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan located on the southern shore of the Aral Sea. The findings indicate that dust deposition rates across the region are high, with sites located near the former shore of the sea being the worst affected. For these northerly regions the former bed of the Aral Sea is the most likely source of dust. The situation for the rest of the country appears to be far more complex. In these regions it appears that local sources and more distant sources to the south and south-west represent significant sediment providers, particularly in the early summer. Provisional analysis of the respiratory health data suggests that children living in the north of the country, where aeolian dust deposition rates are greater, show a lower frequency of respiratory problems. This inverse relationship requires further investigation, but highlights the complexities of environmental and human health inter-relationships.

Keywords: Aral Sea; Central Asia; Karakalpakstan; aeolian dust deposition; respiratory health

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1475-4959.04976

Affiliations: 1: Sheffield Centre for International Drylands Research, Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, 2: School of Geography, University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD, 3: Medecins Sans Frontieres Aral Sea Programme, Uzbekistan, 4: Medecins Sans Frontieres, Kiev, Ukraine and 5: Division of Respiratory Health, University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD, Email: g.wiggs@sheffield.ac.uk

Publication date: June 1, 2003

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