My Students Write About Kazakhstan's Past Disasters

Oct 9, 2008, 5:46 AM |

I asked my students in a quiz based on a short excerpt from Christopher Robbin’s book "Apples are from Kazakhstan": “What is the difference between the two environmental disasters of the Aral Sea and Semipalatinsk?  Which is worse and why?” The following are their answers:


Both the disasters that happened in Semipalatinsk and Aral Sea are horrible and had very negative effects on ecology, environment, people’s physical and mental health.  The most shameful thing about Aral Sea is that it used to be very beautiful place, some kind of a resort back in the times when my Mom as a good Pioneer has been sent there to rest and improve health. Also, it used to be a very industrial region: with lots of fishing and cotton growning, but now it is a place where almost nothing grows or lives, people only stayed because ethey are so attached to their homes (Kazakh’s mentality).  Also, if we compare Semey and Aral Sea, Semey is somewhat better because people there have an ability to survive even live very well because of other natural resources (metals) that are there whereas Aral Sea region has nothing.  Additionally, Semey is no longer a polygon, it is a past but Aral is still continuing to harm not only KZ’s environment but the whole world, because salt blown away, makes icebergs melt by adding to global warming.


Both of these disasters are awful and shameful for Kazakhstan and Soviet Union, but I think that the Semipalatinsk tragedy is even worse than the Aral Sea.  I think so, because, even the Aral Sea disaster is also caused by people, still Semipalatinsk polygon was created by people, so nobody expected such a disaster in Aral Sea, but Semipalatinsk was built with the knowledge, that huge amount of people will suffer, or even die.  I still cannot understand why those people were not evacuated?  I know it was a very big secret, so nobody knew about it, especially another countries, but why, why ordinary people paid for it?  They paid a very big price and what for? Who gain?  They still pay this high price, with crazy children and death diseases.


People in Aral Sea and Semipalatinsk suffered from very dangerous illnesses and what is very interesting fact is that they even do not know about the disaster, for example 10 of 1,000 infants were died because those environmental problems.  I was terrified when I saw these numbers.  The most shameful thing, I think, is that government let it all happen.  The government (head of the government, chief executives, etc) act selfishly, even if they know abut the damage result of these tests and even being informed about mortality rate, they didn’t stop their tests.  How they can be head of the government, how they can be head of the nation when they even do not care about the future of the nation???


In comparison to the disaster occurred in Aral Sea, the Semipalatinsk’s problems much worse.  Aral Sea problem can be explained somehow.  It’s some kind of decisions being unaware, that consuming so much resources would lead to the changes that then couldn’t be reversed.  As for the Semipalatinsk, that’s very unfair to the people, who lived there and didn’t know about was happening.  Government (Moscow Center) did it on purpose.  It seems to me, that even Aral Seas’ problem is very important, it’s on the global level (because salt is spread all over other countries too), the nuclear testing consequences are worse.  Radiation has a periods of active moments.  For some elements, it’s only minutes, for some thousands of years.  So, if Aral Sea can be self-cleaned or turned to previous condition by some methods, radiation can’t be eliminated as we want it to.  Putting them underground it’s not a solution, because there is ground water.  Hopefully both of these problems will ever be solved, because I’m as a Kazakhstan citizen worried about my countrie’s future.  I hope…


In my opinion both environmental disasters are horrible.  However, Semipalatinsk site is worse because the land, air and water of that region is still extremely toxic to the people that live in that area.  There are many people died in that area from various diseases.  As an example, cancer. Many of children born with some kind of deformity or if they healthy later they get sick or die.  Pregnant women pray to God every day so they will have a healthy infant.  I think mortality rate is growing.  People that had an ability to move away they did so however there are many people who still live there and they can’t do anything about it.

Aral Sea disaster is sad as well because we don’t have Aral Sea anymore.  When you see pictures or movie about sea it makes you depressed.  It looks like a ghost town place.  Old fishing ships are standing there, almost nothing grows there, waste is everywhere.

We know that all these happened during Soviet Union period and we know who we should blame.  However, I hope learning from this experience this will never happen again.

In my opinion, the disaster in Aral Sea is uncomparable with the environmental disaster in Semipalatinsk.  It’s quite a different thing.  The most shameful in both of these catastrophes is that now our government doesn’t pay any attention on the victims.  In Soviet times somebody planned the solutions of the problems, made decisions.  But now we can see nothing!  Where are these plans?  We have only facts:  Kazakhs allowed to make a polygon on their land, Kazakhs can’t make any money with the Aral Sea, people die from diseases because both Semypalatinsk and Aral Sea are disasters.  But our government can only talk too much about the consequences and do nothing with them.  This is the most shameful!

 About Semipalatinsk, we have some communities that are working with this problem like “Nevada-Semipalatinsk”as some governmental project that wants to reduce influence of radiation and to help people that live there.  But there are only few communities that work to help AralSeas problem.

Maybe everybody thinks that radiation is more dangerous than vanishing of sea.  But vanishing of Aral is world-size problem.  I read that salt from Aral was found in Central Russia.  Can you even imagine what distance it is?  It is so it can influence on Syberia, Northern Africa and Europe.


Aral Sea was the place where people can rest, it was a place where fish was widespread, of course after cultivation of cotton, Soviet destroyed the natural environment of Aral Sea zone.  Nowadays when someone goes to that zone, they’re afraid that they can get some illness, you can call Aral Sea zoneà”Dead Zone.”

But Semipalatinsk tragedy is also, and more disastrous than Aral Sea problem.  The effect is still widespread, the nuclear things still in the ground, that’s why Semipalatinsk fruits and vegetables are the worst selling ones.  People are afraid to try that product, because they are afraid that someday they will give a birth, and a child that is born will be disabled, as many of them in Semipalatinsk region are.  It’s the tragedy that still affects on our society, both of them are!


The Aral Sea disaster clearly shows that insatiable human desire for more and more and its consequences.  It also shows Moscow’s indifference to the other countries of USSR and their citizens.  I think at this point a lot of Kazakhstan citizens became disappointed in Russia’s image of “Big Brother.” Comparing Aral Sea disaster with Semipalatinsk disaster is very hard especially in terms of their negative effect on people’s health but there are two reasons why I think Aral Sea disaster is worse.  First, is that it affects flora and fauna of not only Aral Sea region, but even further.  As we heard in the article, salt form the Aral Sea brought by wind to the Europe.  The second reason is the time needed to bring everything back to the good.  It will take a lot of time to bring Aral Sea to the past size and bring life to that region back.


What I find most shameful is a huge Soviet Union with a lot of scientists who couldn’t think about this action!  I mean if there were enough clever people in the USSR, they should thought before doing something!

But I still find the situation in Semipalatinsk worse, because the affect of this catastrophe is still existing in that area!  And people who died, suffered and those who suffer even now can’t even blame anybody, as there is nobody to blame!  That was really awful action and completely irresponsible one!  Soviet Union put it’s step in our history and environment and although there were some good acts, those two are really bad.


The problem of Aral Sea…The worst part of it is that it is probably one of the biggest mistakes of humans referring to environment.  When you see the ships standing in the middle of what used to be a sea and now is a desert, and look in the eyes of men – former sailors, it’s a sad picture.

I really hope that the scientists will come up with a solution to Aral Sea disaster, because it causes a lot of problems not only in Kazakhstan  - the salt from the sea gets to the Arctic!


The disaster of Aral Sea is more widespread.  The Soviet Union government did many stupid and harmful things.  If we destroy nature