Fed by the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers, the sea supported local fishing and was navigable from Muinak to Aral. In the 1950s the Soviet Union decided to cultivate cotton in the region, and since the early 1960s the Syr Darya and Amu Darya have been used for large-scale irrigation, reducing the flow of freshwater into the sea. Evaporation and water diversion have resulted in a major environmental problem, shrinking the Aral by half. The quality of its remaining water has deteriorated, increased salinity has killed fish, and the health of those living along the shore has suffered. Regional weather has been affected as well, becoming harsher as the sea's moderating climatic influence has diminished.
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