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(Original article by Jack Shenker and Jason Larkin, at Prospect Magazine.)

"No one knows exactly how many people have left Karakalpakstan. Few in the west have even heard of the nation, once declared by the writer AA Gill to be “the worst place in the world.” A former Soviet republic which is officially part of Uzbekistan, it is nestled deep within the bizarre confluence of ruler-straight lines and flamboyant squiggles that make up the map of central Asia (below). Official figures put the exodus at over 50,000 people in the last decade from a population of 1.5m, but this figure doesn’t include those who, like Ziyo’s passengers, have been smuggled out. Yet while the numbers are disputed, the reasons for emigration are clear. Karakalpakstan is home to the largest man-made ecological disaster of the 20th century—one so severe that it has devastated the economy, health and community fabric of an entire society for generations to come. Karakalpaks have witnessed the awesome and terrible sight of one of the world’s biggest inland bodies of water—the Aral sea—disappearing into thin air. Locals simply know it as the Aral Ten’iz: a sea that fled its shores..."

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