In 1964 the rivers supplying the Aral Sea were pumped dry to irrigate cotton crops, the so-called ‘white gold’ of Central Asia. After that autumn the tide never returned. Nowadays the water has receded over 100 kilometres from Muynak. The Berdakhov family have been cotton pickers for generations, and like many others in the region have many health problems."When less water came from the Amu Darya river, the salt precipitation increased and production declined", says the grandmother Khaticha (71). Her daughter-in-law, Marruza, is having problems with her thyroid gland, as there is not enough iodine in the water. After four operations, her husband had half a lung removed in 1979. Muratbay picked cotton after a defoliant agent called Butaphos, a variant of Agent Orange, was sprayed to make harvesting easier. Now he is an invalid, living with four children and his unemployed brothers at is parents’ home.