"Making the deserts bloom" is the triumphalist mission of planners convinced that nature wastes her resources. In correcting this error they have turned many arid lands into breadbaskets. Forty percent of global agricultural output now relies on irrigation.
But of course there's no free lunch, and nowhere is the cost of rampant irrigation clearer than in central Asia's Aral Sea. Dams and channels divert 120 cubic kilometers per year of water from the Sea's two feeder rivers into cotton fields and rice paddies. Result: The Aral Sea has shrunk to one-quarter of its 1960 volume. Ecosystems have been obliterated and hundreds of species wiped out. Related effects include desertification, soil salinization, vast dust storms, and altered climate. And in a robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul irony, commercial fishing collapsed years ago, stranding a fleet of ghost ships in the spreading desert.