When the wind blows …

2019-03-08 03:08:01

By Fred Pearce THE highest rate of anaemia in the world is found around the dusty shores of the Aral Sea, doctors told an international meeting of health and environment ministers in London last week. Oral Atanyazova, who practises in Nukus, a small Uzbek town once on the shores of the sea, has completed a 15-year study of the declining health of local people. The incidence of anaemia among women has soared from 17 per cent to 98 per cent during that period. “Haemoglobin levels that we would regard as bad enough to require blood transfusions are now quite normal,” she says. The rates of birth defects and liver cancer have also risen fivefold, and kidney diseases are now 20 times as common. Giles Wiggs of the University of Nottingham says the fallout of dust in Turkmenistan is “among the highest recorded in the world”. The dust is heavily laced with salts and organophosphate pesticides and comes from the exposed bed of the Aral Sea, which has lost three-quarters of its water in the past 30 years (“Poisoned waters”, New Scientist, 21 October 1995, p 29). Atanyazova believes that this contamination is responsible for the diseases. “There is massive pollution of our air, water, soils and food,” she says. All the drinking water exceeds international limits for salinity. But Joost van der Meer, Aral Sea research coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières,