With its area of 447,400 km2 Uzbekistan is the 55th largest country in the world by area (and the 39th by population). Among the former USSR countries, it is the 5th largest by area (and the 3rd largest by population).
Uzbekistan stretches for 1,425 kilometres (885 mi) from west to east and 930 kilometres (580 mi) from north to south. Uzbekistan is not only one of the larger Central Asian states but also the only Central Asian state to border all the other four: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Uzbekistan also shares a short border (less than 150 km or 93 mi) with Afghanistan to the south.
Uzbekistan is a landlocked and dry country; it is one of two doubly landlocked countries in the world, i.e., a country completely surrounded by landlocked countries (the other being Liechtenstein). Less than 10% of its territory is intensively cultivated irrigated land in river valleys and oases. The rest is vast desert Kyzyl-Kum and mountains.
Khazret Sultan, the highest point in Uzbekistan, is located at 4,643 metres (15,233 ft) above sea level (located in the southern part of the Gissar Range in Surkhandarya Province, on the border with Tajikistan).
Topography and Drainage
The physical environment of Uzbekistan is diverse, ranging from the flat, desert topography that comprises almost 80% of the country’s territory to mountain peaks in the east reaching about 4,500 metres (14,800 ft) 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 Kyzyl-Kum (Turkic for “red sand”) Desert, shared with southern Kazakhstan, dominates the northern lowland portion of Uzbekistan. The most fertile part of Uzbekistan, the Fergana Valley, is an area of about 21,440 square km. (8,280 sq mi) directly east of the Kyzyl-Kum and surrounded by mountain ranges to the north, south, and east.
Although the Fergana Valley receives just 100 to 300 millimetres (3.9 to 12 in) 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 Syr-Darya, 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.
Significant seismic activity that dominates much of the country is another important feature of Uzbekistan’s physical environment. 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.
Uzbekistan has an extreme continental climate. It is generally warmest in the south and coldest in the north. Temperatures in December average -8°C (18°F) in the north and 0°C (32°F) in the south. However, extreme fluctuations can take temperatures as low as -35°C (-31°F). During the summer months, temperatures can climb to 45°C (113°F) and above. Humidity is low. The best time to visit is during the spring and autumn.
Uzbekistan is divided into twelve provinces (viloyats), one Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakistan and one independent Tashkent city – the capital of Uzbekistan. Each province is divided into districts.