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.