What do you do when your country’s coffers are overflowing with gas profits? If you’re Turkmenistan President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov, you embark on a grandiose plan to cement your place in history and guarantee a happy life for your people by breathing new life into a barren desert.
There’s only one problem: the plan is destined to fail.
Water has already begun flowing from a network of canals used to irrigate cotton fields across this central Asian country into the natural Karashor depression to make the “Golden Age Lake”. Berdymukhamedov and other Turkmenistan officials insist that creating the lake will transform the dry, lifeless sands of the Karakum Desert into a fertile basin filled with a diverse variety of flora and fauna.
The state news agency described it as “an event which would go down in history of the epoch of New Revival as one of its brightest pages”, but experts say it’s more likely to be remembered as a massive mistake. They point out that most of the water dumped into the depression will simply evaporate, and what’s left will quickly become contaminated with toxic pesticides and fertilizers.
Previous environmentally damaging projects in Central Asia offer a glimpse of the problems the creation of the Golden Age Lake may cause. For example, the Aral Sea, which was diverted by Soviet Union irrigation projects, has shrunk 80 percent from its previous size as the world’s fourth-largest lake and most of its natural plants and wildlife have died off.
But Berdymukhamedov is determined to press on with the idea, which was dreamed up by the former Soviet republic's late dictator, Saparmurat Niyazov, before his death in 2006.
As a crowd of 1,000 people congregated to watch him release the first water from a tributary canal, Berdymukhamedov gave a bombastic speech congratulating himself and other ceremony participants on their role in the project.
“These canals will serve as a major source of irrigation to turn the Karakum into a blossoming oasis. I am convinced that our great deeds will be recalled by glory,” he said before riding off in a jewel-bedecked horse and getting into his helicopter to head back to the capital city of Ashgabat.