Agriculture in Kazakhstan, Irrigated by Syr Darya River
The Syr Darya is a river in Central Asia, sometimes known as the Jaxartes or Yaxartes from its Ancient Greek name.
The river rises in two headstreams, the Naryn River and the Kara Darya River, in the Tian Shan Mountains in Kyrgyzstan and eastern Uzbekistan and flows for some 2,212 km (1,380 miles) west and north-west through Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan to the remains of the Aral Sea.
The Syr Darya drains an area of over 800,000 square kilometres, but no more than 200,000 square kilometres actually contribute water to the river. Its annual flow is a very modest 37 cubic kilometres (30 million acre feet) per year – half that of its sister river, the Amu Darya.
Along its course, the Syr Darya irrigates the most fertile cotton-growing region in the whole of Central Asia. An extensive system of canals, many built in the 18th century, spans the regions through which the river flows. Here, it can be seen flowing through southern Kazakhstan, with a large irrigated agricultural area nearby.
The massive expansion of irrigation canals during the Soviet period, to irrigate cotton fields, caused ecological damage to the area: the river dries up long before reaching the Aral Sea which, as a result, has shrunk to a small remnant of its former size. With millions of people now settled in these cotton areas, it is not clear how the situation can be rectified.