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Environment and health
Environmental issues are particularly acute in Turkmenistan. Water in the rivers and the drainage networks is of very poor quality, containing high concentrations of salts and pesticides from both the country itself and from upstream countries. This affects the Aral Sea area, where some of the main collector-drainage canals discharge. A trans-desert collector running about 720 km from the northeast to the Caspian Sea in the far west is under construction as explained in the section: Status and evolution of drainage system.
The irrational use of water resources by the countries of the Central Asian region during the last 50 years is one of the most critical reasons for lack of water. This has resulted in an environmental crisis in the Aral Sea basin, salinization of irrigated lands and decreased fertility. Currently, around 90–95 percent of irrigated land in the Turkmen Aral Sea zone is saline (Berdiyev, 2006). In 2001, the total area salinized by irrigation was and estimated 1 353 744, including land with medium and high salinity.
In 2001, the direct economic loss of land with different degrees of salinization was US$142 million. By yield classes, about 32 percent are highly fertile soils. About 36 percent of the land are affected by medium and severe salinity and are exposed to secondary salinization and waterlogging because of close bedding (up to 2 m) of groundwater. Waterlogging also appears in desert pastures because of drainage water discharges. In 2002, irrigation caused waterlogging on about 756 500 ha.
During the past decades water quality in the Amu Darya river has deteriorated considerably as a result of discharge of drainage and industrial water from neighbouring countries. Average annual salinity level was 0.3 g/litre before 1962, increased to 0.8 g/litre in 1967. In the 1990s, it stabilized within the range of 1.5–1.6 g/litre reaching 2 g/litre during certain periods (Berdiyev, 2006).
The human pressure on surface water is high; although pollution with biogenic elements or organic substances has not yet reached dangerous levels, special attention must be paid to monitoring concentration (especially phenols and nitrates). About 4 km3 of drainage water with salinity level of 6.5–8.5 g/litre is discharged annually into the Amu Darya river from neighbouring Uzbekistan. Because of this, salinity level in the Amu Darya can be up to 2.2 g/litre in certain periods, which negatively affects the health of the population in Dashoguz province, as well as the productivity of irrigated land (Berdiyev, 2006).
Over the past years, application of pesticides, herbicides, defoliants and other chemicals has decreased 2.9 times. The area of their use has been reduced four-fold, as a result of government policy to ensure food security through introduction of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). This has resulted in reduced pollution in the water catchment areas.
In 2004, people affected by water-related diseases amounted to 12 295, of which 7 955 by intestinal infections, 22 by typhoid and 4 318 by virus hepatitis.
In 1998, there was an outbreak of malaria, 137 cases were recorded. Since then, cases of malaria have fallen and Turkmenistan has made significant progress with malaria control; the disease is reported as having been eliminated.