Ships rusting in an exposed seabed depicted what was once the fourth-largest inland body of water – the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan – which has dried up in the last 25 years, leaving the population increasingly vulnerable to tuberculosis. These images commenced this week’s global health symposium, which focused on the environment’s effects on public health.

Keynote speaker Ian Small headed the Doctors Without Borders -an independent humanitarian medical aid agency – 1997 mission to Aral Sea. Small’s speech yesterday afternoon was directed toward the health problems near the Aral Sea.

“What happened to the Aral Sea represents the fact that helping the environment is more than just recycling cans,” Small said. “It’s on a larger scale that we must deal with to keep humans healthy.

“The five million people living in this neglected and virtually unknown part of the world are suffering and there are no easy solutions,” Small added.

Years of pesticide application that left the seabed highly polluted are now being picked up by windstorms and swept through the villages, explaining why many villagers have developed lung disease, Small said. High salt content in the water has also inflicted health problems on the villagers.

The two rivers that feed the sea have largely been diverted since the 1950’s to irrigate Soviet cotton fields, decreasing the water flow and dramatically shrinking the sea.

“We need to advocate policy that takes into account human health,” said Small. “And advocate policy that will improve health.”

Although countless officials, scientists and international organizations have visited the area, little direct assistance has taken place to address the humanitarian and health problems facing the region.

A documentary film titled “Hospital at the End of the Earth” spotlighting on Muynak – once an Aral port city, now a ghost town – will be shown later this week, also a part of the global health symposium. Sponsored by the University of Michigan Student Chapter of the Global Health Council, a series of events, including a talk by Grassroots Coordinator Josh Lozman and a lecture on disaster preparedness and humanitarian assistance in Cuba, will also be held.

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