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UN's Ban Calls Aral Sea 'Shocking Disaster'

A satellite photo shows the vast area left dry by the shrinking of the Aral Sea.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, on a tour of Central Asia, says the depletion of the Aral Sea is one of the planet's most shocking disasters.

He is calling on Central Asian leaders to step up cooperation in solving the environmental problems associated with the shrinking of the Aral Sea, once the world’s fourth-largest body of fresh water.

Ban today took a helicopter tour of the Aral Sea, which borders Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. In a press release, Ban said the tour was “a vivid testament to what...happens when we waste our common natural resources, when we neglect our environment, when we mismanage our environment.”

“Millions of people have lost their places, their livelihoods were destroyed.... I was so saddened to see this for myself,” Ban said in the statement.

The sea shrank by 90 percent after the Soviet Union diverted rivers to support cotton production in the arid region.

After arriving in the western Uzbek city of Nukus, Ban pledged to urge all Central Asian leaders to "sit down together and try to find the solutions" to the devastation of the Aral Sea.

Ban is to meet Uzbek President Islam Karimov later today.

Compiled from agency reports/UN press release