Aral Sea, a lake in Central Asia. It lies just north of the Kyzyl Kum desert and is shared by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The lake has no outlet.
For many years the Aral Sea was the world's fourth largest lake, with an area of about 26,900 square miles (69,671 km2). In 1959, the Soviet government diverted the waters of the lake's primary feeder rivers (the Amu Darya and Syr Darya) to irrigage farmland. Since then, the lake has lost more than 60 percent of its area and has separated into two bodies of water.
The shrinking of the Aral Sea has caused severe environmental damage and economic hardship in the region. The lake now has a relatively high salt content, and is heavily polluted with pesticides and other chemicals. All but a few species of fish in the lake have died, and many people living near the lake have developed major health problems. Much of the fishing industry in the region disappeared, leaving many people unemployed.