A destructive thirst

As you pull on your jeans, have you ever thought about the journey they have taken? Fran Abrams and Margaret Mackintosh trace the 40,000 mile story from cotton fields to high street

The destructive effects of cotton growing are illustrated by the diminished and poisoned Aral Sea, on the borders of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, where the local communities have been sucked dry by diverted irrigation, and enveloped in toxins and have lost their fishing industry and their health.

When the former USSR decided to expand agriculture in the area in the Sixties, especially with "white gold" as cotton was called, the waters of two rivers feeding the Aral Sea were diverted for irrigation.

The demand for irrigation has led to a dramatic drying out of the Aral Sea. What was the world's fourth largest lake (in 1960) is now the eighth, having decreased in area by 57 per cent and in volume by 80 per cent (by 1996), with the water level dropping by between 13 and 18 metres. There are major problems with salinity (equivalent now to that of an ocean), chemical pollution, and the health of the four million people who inhabit what is now an Ecological Disaster Zone. MM

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