Media reports says at least 100 million cubic meters of water have leaked into sand due to the failure of the Karakum Canal in Turkmenistan in January-February 2023.  Journalists working for Meteozhurnal (Weather Magazine) have come to this conclusion after studying satellite imagery.  

The break reportedly occurred due to ice jams, which were caused by abnormal frosts for Central Asia. Journalists found two traffic jams on the pictures of January 17.  The break reportedly happened between January 17 and 20.  They began to eliminate the break by building a bulk dam on January 22.  As it turned out, the construction was carried out from two sides in the opposite direction.

Journalists calculated that “for more than 20 days most of the runoff of the Karakum Canal went into the sands.  Based on this, they proposed the figure of 100 million cubic meters.  This is the minimum score.   

Turkmen authorities have not reported what happened as they have not reported other accidents and incidents.   

The Karakum Canal in Turkmenistan is one of the largest irrigation and water supply canals in the world.  Started in 1954, and completed in 1988, it is navigable over much of its 1,375-kilometre length, and carries 13 cubic kilometers of water annually from the Amu-Darya River across the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan.

The canal opened up huge new tracts of land to agriculture, especially to cotton monoculture heavily promoted by the Soviet Union, and supplying Ashgabat with a major source of water. The canal is also a major factor leading to the Aral Sea environmental disaster.