This book has proven to be a labor of love. It began in 1994 with support from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Water Unit's director, Walter Rast. The idea was to document the incremental changes that have taken place in the Aral Sea basin in the past several decades. As is now well known, the Aral Sea has dropped in level about 17 meters in the short time span of three-and-a-half decades, and has dropped in volume by two-thirds. The Aral Sea's commercial fishing industry has collapsed. And as a result of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the runoff from the fields to the rivers and the sea, human health in the region surrounding the Aral coastline (called the Priaralye) has been greatly affected.
The approach taken was to identify researchers who have spent years, if not decades, monitoring some aspects of environmental change in the Aral Sea basin. It therefore involved researchers from a variety of disciplines and countries who dedicated, and continue to dedicate, their professional lives to improving our understanding of environmental changes at the regional level. The environmental aspects presented include the following: landscape changes, changes in sea water quality and quantity, desertification processes, regional climate change, changes in the deltas, human health, political ideological changes related to the environment, streamflow variations, fisheries, and environmental impacts of the Karakum Canal.
The framework suggested as a guideline to these researchers in the preparation of their assessments was to enable them to view the changes that they were to write about as creeping environmental problems (or CEP) CEP are long-term, low-grade, incremental but cumulative environmental problems.