Stihia Festival - Uzbekistan

Sophie Ibbotson

Tourism consultant for national governments and the World Bank. Author of five guidebooks published by Bradt Travel Guides, and is Uzbekistan’s official ambassador for tourism.

Two generations ago the town of Moynaq in Karakalpakstan was a prosperous fishing port. There were around 500 ships in the Aral Sea fishing fleet, and many of them docked here to bring their catches to the canneries. But mismanagement of the water supply which fed the sea had a devastating effect: the sea retreated year by year, and today Moynaq is far from the shore. All that remains as a reminder of its recent maritime history is the line of skeleton ships stranded in the sand.

Since 2017, however, Moynaq has had hope. Stihia is an annual festival of electronic music, arts, and science which takes place in the town. For the first time in decades, outsiders actually want to come here and spend money, and it is making the local population more optimistic for their future. This is helped by the fact that Stihia is bringing international attention to the Aral Sea disaster and creating a public platform to discuss potential solutions to address environmental problems and bring economic development. Partners like GIZ, the German international development organisation, are contributing their expertise, and this year hosted the N+1, a forum of expert panels on topics of importance to the Aral Sea region, conservation and development.

This year’s festival, which took place from 6-8 May, was hit by sand storms, torrential rain, and lightning, caused by climate change. Stihia is, as its name suggests, a force of nature in its own right, and organisers moved quickly to ensure that the show went on. 1,200 festival goers and dozens of DJs and electronic music artists got the party started, and were joined in front of the main stage with numerous Karakalpak families from the town.

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