Uzbekistan

Driving Directions Uzbekistan

UZBEKISTAN, a central Asian republic of the former USSR, declared itself independent in 1991. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the north, Turkmenistan in the west, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan in the east and Afghanistan in the south, and it encompasses the southern half of the Aral Sea. The Republic of Uzbekistan also includes an autonomous state, the Karakalpakstan Republic, in the far west, close to the Aral Sea.

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Most of Uzbekistan consists of low-lying plains with a vast desert region, the Kyzylkum, in the central and northern part of the country, which is rich in oil and gas. In the east and northeast, the land rises to form the foothills and peaks of ranges that merge with the Pamirs and Tien Shan Mountains of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The highest mountains in this region are about 4,560 meters or 15,000 feet tall.

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The whole area is seismically active and subject to quite frequent earthquakes.

The Aral Sea is a vast inland sea, which once straddled the border with Kazakhstan but now forms two separate seas, one in each country. The Amudarya, the principal river of Uzbekistan, flows into the southern part of the Aral Sea within the republic. The Syrdarya, which crosses northeastern Uzbekistan but flows for most of its course through Kazakhstan, enters the northern part of the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan. Both these rivers have had large volumes of water diverted for irrigation purposes, and this has been responsible for the shrinkage of the Aral Sea. As a result, both the environment and health of the people, as well as the local economy, have been severely affected.

Uzbekistan and neighboring republics have now joined forces to try and repair some of the damage and to prevent the disappearance of the Aral Sea, which the gloomiest prediction states could occur in as little as 15 years.

Water is scarce in Uzbekistan and there is very little rainfall. As a result, many reservoirs and artificial lakes have been created, particularly in the east where most of the population is concentrated. The capital and largest city is Tashkent in the northeast of the country. The city of Tashkent had to be substantially rebuilt following an earthquake in 1966.

A continental climate prevails with hot summers and cold winters and most precipitation occurs in the mountains, falling as snow at higher levels.

Agriculture is the most important economic activity but Uzbekistan still has to import many of its basic foodstuffs. The land is so dry that agriculture can only be practised in the east and northeast with the aid of irrigation. Cotton is the most abundant crop and much of it is exported but other crops include cereals (wheat and barley), rice and many different types of fruits and vegetables. Livestock includes goats and sheep, especially Karakul sheep, which are reared for their wool and meat. Another more unusual activity is the raising of silkworms for the production of silk. Forestry and fishing are small-scale activities in Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan has valuable reserves of gold, oil and natural gas and produces farm machinery and equipment for the textile industry, aircraft, textiles, cotton, natural gas and gold. Economic growth has been checked by concerns about political instability.

The country has significant reserves of natural gas but the oil industry is, as yet, underdeveloped and imports of fuel are needed for domestic and industrial use. Hydroelectric schemes supply much of the republic’s electricity needs.

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