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Uzbekistan To Spend Billions In Troubled Aral Sea Region

A 2014 NASA photo of the shrinking Aral Sea

TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan plans to spend $2.6 billion over five years to develop the area around the shrunken Aral Sea, which is stricken by severe ecological problems.

President Shavkat Mirziyaev's decree on the State Program for Development of the Aral Region In 2017-2021 came into force on January 30.

The decree says about $2.6 billion will be allocated to create new jobs, develop water delivery, sanitation, and waste disposal systems, improve medical services, build new homes and infrastructure, and start up a system of small loans and increased social allowances for local residents.

Once the world's fourth-largest landlocked natural water reservoir, the Aral Sea has lost 90 percent of its size since 1960 -- in part because two major rivers feeding the sea, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, were diverted for Soviet irrigation projects.

The situation has led to significant environmental challenges in the region shared by Uzbekistan's Karakalpakistan autonomous region and Kazakhstan.