On Saturday of last week, Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan and Khorezm regions and Turkmenistan’s Dashoguz Province were struck by a severe salt storm that lasted for three days. Winds had lifted salt and toxic dust from the dried out Aral Sea, leaving a layer over a large stretch of land.
The Aral Sea was dramatically drained by Soviet irrigation projects launched in the 1960s. Waste from weapons testing, plus pesticides and fertiliser have created the toxic dust that causes many health problems in the area. Mortality rates are high as respiratory diseases, including drug-resistant tuberculosis, and various cancers are common. (AA Gill wrote a piece on this that you can find in his book ‘AA Gill is Away‘ and it is a haunting read.)
During this recent dust storm, flights were cancelled and driving became extremely dangerous. Air quality in the region remains very poor and the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued advice to travellers below.
From the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice for Uzbekistan –
Air quality in Turkmenistan and in the Karakalpakstan and Khorezm regions of Uzbekistan has deteriorated as a result of storms over the Aral Sea bringing salt, dust and pollutants into the air. As for any acute deterioration in outdoor air quality due to weather events, you should minimise your individual exposure to external air by staying indoors in an air-conditioned environment as much as possible, with windows and doors closed and as well sealed as possible. Wash all fruit, vegetables and other foods which might have been exposed, and regularly damp dust all indoor surfaces, washing your hands afterwards. It is unclear when the air quality will improve; you’re advised to monitor local reports and weather forecasts for the latest information and local advice.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 03 (non-English speaking) and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
from Travel Advice Summary, which can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/uzbekistan
Click through here to read the FCO’s travel advice for Turkmenistan.
- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: It’s Raining Salt: Toxic Aral Sea Storm Sparks Health Fears In Central Asia
- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: New Bill Arrives For Damage To Aral Sea
- BBC News: Restoring life to the Aral Sea’s dead zone
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