Global Disruptive Challenge 2021: International organizations are looking for innovators to save the Aral Sea

20 Nov 2020

The World Bank, in partnership with the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF), the Kazakh-German University (DKU) and Plug and Play (P&P), is calling for proposals from innovators around the world to participate in the ‘Global Disruptive Tech Challenge 2021: Restoring Landscapes in the Aral Sea Region’.

The Aral Sea Region ecological disaster has had a catastrophic impact on the Central Asian states’ environment, their economies, well-being, and the health of millions of people in the region: more than 4 million people live in the disaster zone in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and 40 million people live in the Aral Sea basin, which spans all five Central Asian countries.

The Global Distruptive Challenge 2021 will help attract disruptive innovative solutions that mitigate the negative impacts on local ecosystems in the Aral Sea region of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, helping to improve the livelihoods of millions. It also addresses the need for economic growth and sustainable development in watershed landscapes and will promote scalability in other areas of Central Asia that present similar landscape degradation issues. These solutions will serve to inform the World Bank Resilient Landscape Program in Central Asia (RESILAND CA +).

Central Asian and international NGOs, educational and research institutions, start-ups and innovators are invited to participate in the Challenge, with focus on four key focus themes: Agriculture and Land Management, Sustainable Forestry, Socio-Economic Development, and Information and Knowledge.

The key focus themes of the Challenge are: Agriculture and Land Management, Sustainable Forestry, Socio-Economic Development, and Information and Knowledge.

Proposed solutions should go beyond concepts and meet the established criteria, such as demonstrating potential for scaling-up and having implementation road maps, among others. The application period for the Challenge closes on 15 January 2021. Winners will receive recognition and awards, including thematic training sessions and a mentorship program that will run from February to June 2021.

The Challenge is supported by the Central Asia Water and Energy Program (CAWEP) and is funded by the European Union, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.


The Aral Sea, once the world’s fourth-largest lake, has nearly disappeared of the past half-century due to human-induced changes to Central Asian water systems in order to grow water-intensive crops, such as cotton and rice. The Aralkum Desert, which has developed on the former seabed and covers an area of 5.5 million hectares, has significantly accelerated this process of desertification and degradation.

This, in turn, is negatively affecting the overall productivity of crops, livestock and living standards of the some 40 million people living in the Aral Sea Basin, which spans not only Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan – where the Sea was located – but also Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Thanks to measures taken by the governments of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan since the mid–2000s to mitigate the environmental consequences of the disaster, some life has returned to the Aral Sea, but millions of hectares are still in need of restoration.

For more information and questions on the Challenge, please contact:

Balzhan Zhumagazina

Project Coordinator

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