Disaster: The shrinking of the Aral Sea
Going since: The 1960s
Damage done: Straddling the border of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the Aral Sea was once the world's fourth-largest inland water body and home to at least 20 species of fish and a thriving coastal economy in the surrounding towns. In the early 1960s, the Soviet government built more than 45 dams and 20,000 miles of canals in an effort to create a cotton industry on the desert plains of Uzbekistan, depriving the sea of its main sources.
Over the next three decades, the sea shrank to two-fifths its original size, turning fishing villages into barren desert outposts. Thanks to the high salt content in the remaining water, all 20 fish species are now extinct. Drinking water supplies in the area are dangerously low and the ground contains dangerous pesticides from the cotton farms. When the wind sweeps across the now-dry sea bed, it spreads up to 75 million tons of toxic dust and salt across Central Asia every year.
Thankfully, dams constructed in the last decade on the Kazakh side seem to be leading to a partial recovery. The Northern Aral's surface span has grown by 20 percent and fish and bird species are starting to return. The Southern Aral, however, still remains a shadow of its former self.