This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
Making our way out of Uzbekistan’s Xorazm Province, we began our three-hour drive to the city of Nukus, capital of the country’s autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan.
Up until the late-1990s, the land we were driving through was still cotton fields; today, it’s just an expanse of salty grey emptiness.
Once a thriving agricultural center, Karakalpakstan is now one of the sickest places on Earth.
Respiratory illness, typhoid, tuberculosis and oesophageal cancers are rife, and the region has the highest infant mortality rate in the former USSR.
These problems started with the destruction of the Aral Sea, which dates back to the US Civil War.
After finding his supply of American cotton under threat, the Russian czar decided to use the sea’s tributaries to irrigate Central Asia and create his very own reserve of cotton