Inland sea to fill Silk Road desert

20th July 2009

Turkmenistan has begun the next stage in its plan to create a vast inland lake in the heart of the country’s Karakum desert.

It is estimated that the ‘Golden Age Lake’, which was commissioned by eccentric former president Saparmurat Niyazov nine years ago, will cost around $4.5bn and could take up to 15 years to fill.

Water drained from cotton fields will be pumped through a 2600-km long network of canals into the desert’s Karashor depression.

Despite Turkmenistan’s location on the famous Silk Road route and its rich history, the number of travellers to the country remains low.

The lake is a lasting legacy of the country’s old authoritarian regime. Under his formal title, ‘Turkmenbashi’, or ‘father of all Turkmen’, Niyazov named the months of the year after himself and family members, and banned opera, ballet, gold teeth and recorded music.

Once filled, the lake will reach a depth of 70 metres, and span 2000km2. It is expected to hold more than 130bn cubic metres of water.

Current President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov praised the project, saying the lake demonstrated Turkmenistan’s “huge efforts” to improve the environment and preserve nature.

Speaking at the opening ceremony on Wednesday, Mr Berdymukhamedov said “these canals will serve as a major source of irrigation to turn the Karakum into a blossoming oasis”.

Despite assurances from Turkmen officials that the lake will improve plant life and attract migratory birds, the plans have been met with criticism.

Environmentalists claim that much of the water will evaporate, and what remains will be contaminated with fertilisers and pesticides.

There is also concern that relations between Turkmenistan and neighbouring Uzbekistan will become strained if water from the Amu Darya river- which separates the countries - is used to fill the lake.

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