Located in eastern Central Asia to the east of the Caspian Sea and bordered by Kazakhstan to the north and west, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan in the south, Uzbekistan covers 447,400 square kilometers (172,700 square miles), making it slightly larger than California and approximately the size of France, Iraq or Sweden. Uzbekistan is the third largest nation in Central Asia after Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

Uzbekistan is completely landlocked. It doesn't border the Caspian Sea as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan do but is the only Central Asian state that bordered by the other four Central Asian states. Liechtenstein and Uzbekistan are the only two doubly landlocked countries in the world. This means that all the countries around Uzbekistan — and Liechenstein — are also landlocked. Uzbekistan stretches 1,425 kilometers from west to east and 930 kilometers from north to south.

Uzbekistan is not only one of the larger Central Asian states. With the exception of mountains in east, Uzbekistan is mostly flat and arid and covered by plains, desert, and dry steppe. In the west are the barren and shrubby Kyzyl-Kum (Red Sand) desert, the dried up Aral Sea (shared with Kazakhstan) and the Astarte Plateau. The Kara-Kum in Turkmenistan and Kyzyl-Kum deserts merge, and together form the forth largest desert in the world.

Many people live in the Fergana Valley, a fertile, curling strip of land situated between the Tien Shan, Pamirs and Gasser-Allay Mountains in the east and shared by Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Other small mountain ranges include the Chaetal mountains near Tashkent and the Fan mountains near Samarkand. Mountains bring snow-melt water and life to a parched nation. The use of irrigation has blurred the line between oasis and steppe and desert.

Uzbekistan is located on in the south central section of the great Eurasian plains. About 10 percent of the country is good for agriculture (compared to 21 percent in the United States). Most of this land is in the mountain valleys, especially the Fergana valley, or is irrigated land used mainly for growing cotton. Trees and forest are rarities in Uzbekistan. They are found mostly in the mountain, city parks and along rivers.

Geographical Data for Uzbekistan

Land area: total: 447,400 square kilometers, country comparison to the world: 57; land: 425,400 square kilometers; water: 22,000 square kilometers, Land boundaries: total: 6,893 kilometers: border five countries: Afghanistan 144 kilometers; Kazakhstan 2,330 kilometers; Kyrgyzstan 1,314 kilometers; Tajikistan 1,312 kilometers; Turkmenistan 1,793 kilometers. Coastline and maritime claims: 0 kilometers (doubly landlocked) but Uzbekistan includes the southern portion of the Aral Sea with a 420 kilometers shoreline. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Terrain: mostly flat-to-rolling sandy desert with dunes; broad, flat intensely irrigated river valleys along course of Amu Darya, Syr Darya (Sirdaryo), and Zarafshon; Fergana Valley in east surrounded by mountainous Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan; shrinking Aral Sea in west. Elevation extremes: lowest point: Sariqamish Kuli -12 meters; highest point: Adelunga Toghi 4,301 meters. Natural resources: natural gas, petroleum, coal, gold, uranium, silver, copper, lead and zinc, tungsten, molybdenum.

Land use: agricultural land: 62.6 percent; arable land 10.1 percent; permanent crops 0.8; percent; permanent pasture 51.7 percent; forest: 7.7 percent; other: 29.7 percent (2011 est.). Irrigated land: 41,980 square kilometers (2005); Total renewable water resources: 48.87 cubic kilometers (2011). Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural) total: 56 cubic kilometers a year(7 percent/3 percent/90 percent); per capita: 2,113 cubic meters a year (2005). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Central Asia

Central Asia embraces Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, five former Soviet republics. Sometimes western China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, south-central Russia and/or Mongolia are included depending on whether the countries are grouped together by language family, geography, horseman-nomadic traditions or sharing the “stan” suffix.” The core five Central Asian nation, plus western China (Xinjiang) are sometimes called Turkestan (Turkistan) because many of the people that live there speak Turkic languages. The term “Inner Asia” is also used. It includes Tibet and Manchuria, with a particular focus on people with horseman-nomadic traditions.

Central Asia has traditionally provided a bridge between Asia and Europe, which meet on the Eurasia steppe. The region is often regarded as exotic because its association with the Silk Road, the Great Game, and cultures and people that Westerners have traditionally known little about. The regions inaccessibility during the Soviet area only augmented this reputation.

Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan together occupy about 7.5 million square kilometers, an area around half the size of the continental United States or two thirds the size of the European Union. Central Asia is defined geographically by the Caspian Sea to the west, the northern part of the Kazakhstan steppe to the north, the Altay Mountains and Taklamakan Desert of China to the east and the Pamirs and southern Turkmenistan deserts in the south. The dying Aral Sea lies between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Central Asia is mostly arid and landlocked, with steppes in the north and harsh deserts in the south. Majestic mountains — in particular the Tien Sien and the Pamirs — dominate the east and southeast. There are high plateaus around the mountains. The rivers that thread through the region are fed by melting snow and glaciers and carve deep valleys and ravines. Many important agricultural areas are irrigated, sometimes using ancient qanat systems of underground canals; other times canals built during the Soviet era. Important crops include cotton, wheat, melons, rice and vegetables. Around the mountains and in the steppes people herd sheep, goats and horses. Scattered around the region are large deposits of oil, natural gas, gold, aluminum and other valuable minerals. The largest oil and natural gas deposits are in and around the Caspian Sea in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

Topography of Uzbekistan

The terrain of Uzbekistan is a combination of sandy deserts, intensely irrigated river valleys, and mountains. About 80 percent of the country in flat, desert. Mountain ranges dominate far southeast and far northeast and traverse middle of eastern provinces, east to west. The Fergana Valley in the northeast is the most fertile region. There are few lakes and rivers. The shrinking Aral Sea, shared with Kazakhstan, is in the northwest. Most of country seismically active.

Uzbekistan’s topography is diverse. The main desert is the Kyzyl Kum (Qizilqum) Desert of the north-central part of the country. The mountains of the far southeast and far northeast, which are foothills of the Tian Shan Range, reach 4,500 meters in elevation. In the northeast, the Fergana Valley, which is the country’s center of population, agriculture, and industry, is 200 to 500 meters above sea level, surrounded by mountain ranges, and intersected by the Syr Darya River. The far west is dominated by the Turan Lowland, the Amu Darya valley, and the southern half of the shrinking Aral Sea.

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 Kazakhstan, dominates the northern lowland portion of Uzbekistan. The Fergana Valley covers 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 Syr Darya which runs across the northeastern sector of Uzbekistan from southern Kazakhstan 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. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]


The famous steppe of Central Asia is 3000-mile-long, flat or gently rolling grassland, averaging 500 miles in width. It is mostly treeless except for areas along riverbanks. It's name is derived from “stepi”, "meaning plain. The vast sea of grass of the steppe is perfect riders on horseback. The Steppe gave birth the Scythians, Turks, Mongols, Tartars, and Huns. One of the richest grazing areas, the Altai Mountain region between Russia and western Mongolia, not coincidentally is where many of the great horseman cultures originally hail from. Beginning in the second century B.C., Silk Road trading caravans's started traversing the Steppe.

The Central Asian steppe stretches from Mongolia and the Great Wall of China in the east to Hungary and the Danube River in the west. It is bounded by the taiga forest of Russia to the north and by desert and mountains to the south. It is located at about same latitude as the American plains and embraces a dozen countries, including Russia, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and several other former Soviet Republics.

Describing the steppes, Polish Nobel laureate Henry Sienkiewicz wrote in “With Fire and Sword”, "The steppes are wholly desolate and unpeopled yet filled living menace. Silent and still yet seething with hidden violence, peaceful in their immensity yet infinitely dangerous, these boundless spaces were a masterless, untamed country created foe ruthless men who acknowledge no one as their overlord."

Grassland soil and plants store large amounts of carbon dioxide. When they are burned they release large amounts of carbon dioxide onto the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. The poor yellow steppe soil is much less fertile than rich black earth found in southern Russia and Ukraine. When the topsoil is stripped of vegetation it becomes dusty and is easily blown away in the wind.

Steppe Plants and Grasses

Steppes are covered mostly by sparse grass or grasses and shrubs such as saxual. Trees are often stunted. Large trunks, branches and leaves require a lot of water to maintain. When the steppes meet the foot foothills, you can find wild poppies, even wild opium poppies.

The grass family is one of the largest in the plant kingdom, embracing some 10,000 different species worldwide. Contrary to what you might think, grasses are fairly complex plants. What you see are only their leaves.

Grass flowers are often not recognizable as such. Because grasses rely on the breeze to distribute pollen (there is a usually lots of wind on the steppe) and they don't need colorful flowers to attract pollinators such as birds and bees. Grass flowers have scales instead of pedals and grow in clusters on special tall stems that lift them high enough to be carried by the wind.

Grasses need lots of sunlight. They do not grow well in forests or other shady areas. Tall feather grass grows well in the well-watered parts of the steppe. Shorter grass grows better in the dry steppe where there is less rainfall. Chiy, a grass with cane-like reeds, is used by nomads to make decorative screens in the yurts

Grasses can tolerate lack of rain, intense sunlight, strong winds, shredding from lawnmowers, the cleats of Athletes and the hooves of grazing animals. They can survive fires: only their leaves burn; the root stocks are rarely damaged.

The ability of grass to endure such harsh conditions lies in the structures of its leaves, The leaves of other plants spring from buds and have a developed a network of veins that carry sap and expand into the leaf. If a leaf is damaged a plant can seal its veins with sap but do little else. Grass leaves on the other hand don't have a network of veins, rather they have unbranched veins that grow straight, and can tolerate being cut, broken or damaged, and keep growing.

Rivers in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is not endowed with substantial river systems; the most important rivers are the Amu Darya, the Syr Darya, and the Zarafshon, all of which flow from other countries across a small expanse of Uzbekistan. Other rivers are the Akhangaran and the Chirchik, both in the northeast.

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. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Amu Darya and Syr Darya are the two largest rivers in Central Asia. They originates and are feed by glaciers, snow melt and streams in the Tien Shan and Pamirs mountains. The Amu flows along the Uzbekistan border to Turkmenistan and empties into the Aral Sea. The Syr Darya flows through Uzbekistan to Kazakhstan and then into the Aral Sea. The Zeravan River nourishes Samarkand and Bukhara. Many rives are drained by irrigation or empty into the desert.

The rivers in Central Asia are often brown and muddy even many hundreds of miles from their sources. This is because the water contains suspended “yellowish-grey marl, or loess” that is very fine and stays suspended in the water for a long time. One geologist wrote these minerals are “formed by the disintegration of porphyry rock carried by the wind off the surrounding mountains in the form of very fine dust” and “it gradually settled and built by the Central Asian plateau.”

The rivers in Central Asia are often brown and muddy even many hundreds of miles from their sources. This is because the water contains suspended “yellowish-grey marl, or loess” that is very fine and stays suspended in the water for a long time. One geologist wrote these minerals are “formed by the disintegration of porphyry rock carried by the wind off the surrounding mountains in the form of very fine dust” and “it gradually settled and built by the Central Asian plateau.”

Fergana Valley

The Fergana Valley is a large, curving strip of land with the Tien Shan mountains to the north and the Gasser-Allay Mountains, a branch of the Pamirs, to the south. Covering 22,000 square kilometers and drained by the upper Syr-Darya river, it is 320 kilometers long and occupies an area about three-quarters the size of Maryland and is so large that it doesn’t really seem like a valley at all. The entrance to valley is a narrow mouth.

The Fergana Valley spreads across northern Tajikistan from Uzbekistan on the west to Kyrgyzstan on the east. This long valley reaches its lowest elevation of 320 meters at Khujand on the Syr-Darya. Rivers bring rich soil deposits into the Fergana Valley from the surrounding mountains, creating a series of fertile oases that have long been prized for agriculture. In the Soviet era, the Vakhsh River was dammed for irrigation and electric power, and factories were built along its banks. Hot summers and frigid winters characterize the climate. The high mountain ridges protect the Fergana Valley and other lowlands from Arctic air masses, but temperatures drop below freezing more than one-hundred days a year.

The Fergana (also spelled Ferghana) Valley lies at a convergent point of some of the great deserts and great mountains of Central Asia. It is unevenly divided among Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan with most of it in Uzbekistan. It is the most populous area in Central Asia, with 11 million people, many of them relatively conservative Muslims. The Uzbekistan section is home to about 10 million people, a third of Uzbekistan’s population. It also contains the region’s richest agricultural land that have traditionally produced melons and vegetables.

The Fergana Valley has been divided in unusual ways between Uzbekistan Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In some cases enclaves of one country are completely surrounded by another country. In general, Uzbekistan holds the valley floor; Tajikistan occupies in narrow mouth; and Kyrgyzstan posseses the highlands around the valley.

The Fergana Valley, for the most part, is a beautiful and charming place filled with melon fields, agricultural villages, apricot orchards, cotton irrigation canals and markets where you can buy Afghanistan opium and traditional crafts. It is also a center of cotton and silk worm production and has its share of Soviet-era polluting industries. There is some oil and gas in the valley. Walnuts are harvested in the hills.

Climate and Weather in Uzbekistan

Made up of primarily of mid-latitude desert and semiarid grassland in east, Uzbekistan has a continental climate, with long hot summers and short mild winters.The weather in Uzbekistan is predominately dry and characterized by great extremes of hot and cold on a daily basis and yearly basis. It can be as cold as Siberia in the winter and has hot as the Sahara in the summer. Daytime and nighttime differences of 27 degrees C (80 degrees F) have been recorded in the deserts. The temperature extremes found in Central Asia have earned it the nickname, “the land of the fan and the fur.”

The winters are generally short and harsh. The average high in January is 2 degrees C (25 degrees F). Siberian winds can send the temperature plummeting. Winter temperatures reach –40 degrees C, averaging –23 degrees C. The snowfall is generally negligible, at best blanketing the landscape with a thin crust of icy crystals. In the mountains there are colder temperatures and more snow. The summers are long and very hot, with great extremes between the high and low temperatures. By April it is already very hot. In July and August the temperatures rise often rise above 40 degrees C (104 degrees F) and average 32 degrees C. Temperatures above 51 degrees C (123 degrees F) have been recorded in the Kyzyl Kum Desert. Spring and autumn are the best time to visit. The days are pleasant and the nights are often chilly. Spring can be muddy and windy.

Drought, Wind and Arid Conditions in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan receives very little rain and would receive even less if it wasn't for the mountains which bring precipitation to themselves and to the areas on their windward sides. Rainfall averages vary between 100 millimeters per year in the northwest and 800 millimeters per year in the Tashkent region. Precipitation falls mainly in the winter and spring. The rains in May and June are crucial for agriculture. Most of the country has an average annual rainfall amounting to between 100 and 200 millimeters. Between July and September, little precipitation falls, essentially stopping the growth of vegetation during that period.

Spring can be very windy. Sometimes dust storms blow in that blot out the sky with fine dust particles that creeps inside building despite efforts to keep it out and force airports and bazaars to close down. In southern Uzbekistan people called the storms Afganets, a Russian word for people from Afghanistan.

There was a severe drought after the rains failed in May and June 2000. One third of the people in Uzbekistan were affected and the cotton industry was hurt. The arid Karakalpakstan area was particularly hard hit. Africa-style emergency food supplies had to be rushed in to prevent starvation. The problem was as much the result of poor land usage as drought. Much of the grazing land in the steppe hadhas been convert to agricultural land that could not get enough water. Some 300,000 hectares of land was affected. Grain production was 65 percent of what had been expected. The drought continued in to 2001 and 2002.

Earthquakes in Uzbekistan

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. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

People in Tashkent are used to earthquakes. They have traditionally lived in relatively safe clay one-storey structures, which are easy to replace, easy to escape from and made of relatively light building materials that don’t kill you if they fall on you. [Source:]

Tashkent and its immediate vicinity were prone to earthquakes and 74 earthquakes of a magnitude between 3 and 6 had been recorded from 1914 to 1966. The city had been damaged in earthquakes in 1866 and 1886. Concerns about possible earthquake damage to the city were raised in the 1940s and 1950s, especially after Ashgabat was devastated in an earthquake in 1948.

Uzbekistan is located on a major earthquake fault line. There is measurable seismic activity throughout the year but generally no significant earthquake damage occurs. Local housing does not always meet Western construction standards, but the major hotels reportedly have been designed to meet earthquake standards. Tashkent experienced a mild earthquake in 2008 that caused some damage. [Source: “Uzbekistan 2011 OSAC Crime and Safety Report,” Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State]

U.S. Embassy Tashkent strongly encourages residents and visitors to think about what supplies, tools, information, and resources they would need in the event of an earthquake. Basic advice for earthquake or emergency preparedness is to plan, prepare, and practice.

1966 Tashkent Earthquake

The Tashkent earthquake occurred in Tashkent on April 25, 1966. Fifteen to 200 people were killed, 1,000 were injured, and about 300,000 were left homeless. Around 28,000 buildings were destroyed, including 200 hospitals and clinics, and 180 schools. The Old Quarter of Tashkent was particularly hard hit. Thousands of the ancient, one-story adobe dwellings were flattened. Additional damage was sustained from the hundreds of aftershocks which followed. [Source: USGS]

The 1966 Tashkent earthquake had a magnitude of 5.1 with an epicenter in central Tashkent at a depth of three to eight kilometers (1.9 to 5.0 miles). The earthquake caused massive destruction to Tashkent, destroying most of the buildings in the city. Following the disaster, most of the historic parts of Tashkent had been destroyed and the city was rebuilt, modelled on Soviet architectural styles. Before the Tashkent earthquake, an increase in Radon levels had been noticed. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Over 80 percent of the city was destroyed, including over half of the old city. In total, between 78,000 and 95,000 homes were destroyed. Most of these were traditional adobe housing in more densely populated central areas. The majority of the most significant buildings in Tashkent were destroyed; this included 600-year-old mosques. Most of these buildings predated the Russian Revolution of 1917. Estimates of those made homeless by the disaster ranged from 200,000 to 300,000. While the official death toll was 15 people this figure may be an underestimate due to Soviet secrecy and other sources estimated death tolls ranging from 200 people[16] to 0.5% of the city's population of 1,100,000. Over 20 percent more women than men were killed. +

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, senior Soviet figures, including Premier Leonid Brezhnev, flew to Tashkent to supervise the recovery efforts. A massive rebuilding project was started, with other Soviet republics sending large numbers of workers to assist in the rebuilding process. This changed the ethnic make up of the city, as many of them remained in Tashkent after the work had been completed. The new Tashkent contained architectural styles found in other Soviet cities such as wide boulevards and large apartment block complexes. By 1970, 100,000 new homes had been constructed. +

The earthquake also resulted in increased religiosity, with increased interest in many Islamic ritual practices. To prevent further such disasters from having such a serious impact on the city, in 1966 Soviet authorities created an Institute of seismology, tasked with monitoring seismic changes, such as changes in radon levels and predicting earthquakes.A memorial stone to victims of the earthquake located above the epicentre was unveiled in 1976. +

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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