The Devil and the Disappearing Sea: A True Story About the Aral Sea Catastrophe

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9781551925998: The Devil and the Disappearing Sea: A True Story About the Aral Sea Catastrophe
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Set among the ruins of the Soviet empire, this darkly comic true-crime thriller involves environmental disaster, international intrigue, and an unsolved murder. In January 2000, Rob Ferguson went to Uzbekistan to work on a project designed to save the shrinking Aral Sea. By the time he left a year later, he was under suspicion for murder, and the project had achieved almost nothing: once the world's third largest lake, researchers warn the Aral may be gone by 2020. The Devil and the Disappearing Sea is the true story of a well-meaning man who travels to one the earth's poorest regions in the hopes of staving off an environmental tragedy. Instead, he encounters corrupt officials, bumbling bureaucrats, anti-Western hostility, and a slew of insurmountable problems. As the project grinds to a halt, only the ancient cities, friendly people, and a sharp sense of humor keep Ferguson on the right side of sanity.

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From Publishers Weekly:

Starred Review. The pith of Ferguson's fascinating debut—a hybrid of sightseeing travelogue, political history lesson, dire ecological warning and unsolved murder mystery—is that the Aral Sea, once the fourth-largest inland body of water on Earth, is shrinking fast. As of a couple of years ago, the sea, which is near five politically volatile Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan), had dwindled to one-fifth its 1960 size. Estimates are that it will completely evaporate by 2020, done in by decades of inept agricultural planning, gross water mismanagement and, more recently, wasteful nongovernmental organization funding, corrupt bureaucratic infighting and intractable nationalism. In 2000, communications specialist Ferguson came to the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea as the determined head of a Public Awareness Team, partially funded by the World Bank, that was intended to educate the region's populace about water conservation. He left a year later, overwhelmed by ineffectual oversight and anti-Western hostility—and accused of a murder he couldn't possibly have committed. His wry account of a turbulent year clearly articulates the tragic consequences of what he now deems inevitable failure—millions of acres of arable land reduced to poisoned, salty plains—with skilled reporting and detail-rich writing. Readers will finish the book knowing with certainty why the Aral Sea disaster has been described as a slow-motion Chernobyl. (May)
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