Uzbekistan Table of Contents
With an area of 447,000 square kilometers (approximately the size of France), Uzbekistan stretches 1,425 kilometers from west to east and 930 kilometers from north to south. Bordering Turkmenistan to the southwest, Kazakstan to the north, and Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to the south and east, Uzbekistan is not only one of the larger Central Asian states but also the only Central Asian state to border all of the other four. Uzbekistan also shares a short border with Afghanistan to the south (see fig. 1).
The physical environment of Uzbekistan is diverse, ranging from the flat, desert topography that comprises almost 80 percent of the country's territory to mountain peaks in the east reaching about 4,500 meters above sea level. The southeastern portion of Uzbekistan is characterized by the foothills of the Tian Shan mountains, which rise higher in neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and form a natural border between Central Asia and China. The vast Qizilqum (Turkic for "red sand"--Russian spelling Kyzyl Kum) Desert, shared with southern Kazakstan, dominates the northern lowland portion of Uzbekistan (see fig. 2). The most fertile part of Uzbekistan, the Fergana Valley, is an area of about 21,440 square kilometers directly east of the Qizilqum and surrounded by mountain ranges to the north, south, and east. The western end of the valley is defined by the course of the Syrdariya, which runs across the northeastern sector of Uzbekistan from southern Kazakstan into the Qizilqum. Although the Fergana Valley receives just 100 to 300 millimeters of rainfall per year, only small patches of desert remain in the center and along ridges on the periphery of the valley.
Water resources, which are unevenly distributed, are in short supply in most of Uzbekistan. The vast plains that occupy two-thirds of Uzbekistan's territory have little water, and there are few lakes. The two largest rivers feeding Uzbekistan are the Amu Darya and the Syrdariya, which originate in the mountains of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, respectively. These rivers form the two main river basins of Central Asia; they are used primarily for irrigation, and several artificial canals have been built to expand the supply of arable land in the Fergana Valley and elsewhere.
Another important feature of Uzbekistan's physical environment is the significant seismic activity that dominates much of the country. Indeed, much of Uzbekistan's capital city, Tashkent, was destroyed in a major earthquake in 1966, and other earthquakes have caused significant damage before and since the Tashkent disaster. The mountain areas are especially prone to earthquakes.
Data as of March 1996