The Aral Sea area in Central Asia has been encountering one of the world's greatest environmental disasters for more than 15 years. During that time, despite many assessments and millions of dollars spent by large, multinational organizations, little has changed. The 5 million people living in this neglected and virtually unknown part of the world are suffering not only from an environmental catastrophe that has no easy solutions but also from a litany of health problems. The region is often dismissed as a chronic problem where nothing positive can be achieved. Within this complicated context, Medecins Sans Frontieres, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, is actively trying to assess the impact of the environmental disaster on human health to help the people who live in the Aral Sea area cope with their environment. Medecins Sans Frontieres has combined a direct medical program to improve the health of the population while conducting operational research to gain a better understanding of the relationship between the environmental disaster and human health outcomes. In this paper we explore the health situation of the region and the broader policy context in which it is situated, and present some ideas that could potentially be applied to many other places in the world that are caught up in environmental and human health disasters.