On the Aral Sea, graves rise above the dust. They're reminders of the life its waters once sustained

ARALSK, Kazakhstan (AP) — In the middle of the vast desert that surrounds what is left of the Aral Sea, graves stand as stark reminders — of communities that once thrived, of the powerful body of water that teemed with life, and of the years of change that fueled its disappearance.

Decades ago, when the Aral was among the world's largest inland bodies of water, it was an economic and social force for the region. Today, climate change — paired with engineering and agricultural projects — has left behind largely wasteland, with only pockets of water where few animals, plants or people can live.

But scattered throughout the sandy, rocky shores are the graves — in small clusters, rising above the dust.

Some graves are surrounded by stonework; others have basic metal fencing. Crevices and bricks hold flowers in place, brought by loved ones and others who remember brighter days.

Weathered, rusted headstones with photos and descriptions commemorate the lives of those who lived and worked here.

Some are built in the shape of lighthouses or anchors — a reference to the sea that sustained them.


EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the third piece in an AP series on the once-massive Aral Sea, the lives of those who’ve lived and worked on its shores, and the effects of climate change and restoration efforts in the region. The AP visited both sides of the Aral, in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, to document the changing landscape.


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