The World As We Knew It Has Been Left Behind
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    Aral Sea catastrophe affects DNA

    By David Shukman

    Fresh fears have been raised about the health of populations living near the shrinking Aral Sea in central Asia.

    A new study has now found high levels of DNA damage that could explain the region's abnormally high cancer rates.

    This comes as the latest estimates say the Aral Sea is receding so rapidly it could vanish within the next 15 years.

    Once the world's fourth largest inland body of water, the sea has been drained by a poorly managed irrigation system that supplies water to cotton crops.

    Toxic mix

    If ever there was an example of manmade ecological and human catastrophe, the Aral Sea and the dusty, salt-encrusted lands around it must be the most vivid anywhere on the planet.

    In fact, it is no longer true to talk of the sea as a single entity. In the late 1980s, its level fell so low that the centuries-old body of water divided into two.