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Georgia, Land and Resources

Inguri, Rustavi, Kura River, Kazbek, mountain systems

Georgia covers an area of about 69,700 sq km (about 26,900 sq mi). It is situated on the east coast of the Black Sea and bounded by Russia on the north and by Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey on the south. Rugged mountain ranges dominate Georgia’s landscape, constituting about 85 percent of the total land area. The main ridge of the Caucasus Mountains, or Greater Caucasus, forms most of Georgia’s northern border with Russia and contains the country’s highest elevations, including Mount Shkhara (5,201 m/17,064 ft), Georgia’s highest peak. The highest peak fully contained in the country is Mount Kazbek (5,037 m/16,526 ft), in the central Greater Caucasus. Many other peaks reach heights of 4,500 m (15,000 ft) or greater. The Lesser Caucasus mountains occupy the southern part of the republic and rarely exceed an elevation of 3,000 m (10,000 ft). These two mountain systems are linked by the centrally located Surami mountain range, which bisects the country along a northeast-southwest axis. The Surami range includes the Meskheti and Likhi ranges. To the west of this range the relief becomes much lower, and elevations are generally less than 100 m (300 ft) along the river valleys and the coast of the Black Sea. On the eastern side of the Surami Range, a high plateau known as the Kartaliniya Plain extends along the Kura River to the border with Azerbaijan.

The two largest rivers in Georgia, the Kura (Mtkvari) and the Rioni, flow in opposite directions: the Kura, which originates in Turkey, runs generally eastward through Georgia and Azerbaijan into the Caspian Sea, while the Rioni drains into the Black Sea to the west. A delta region known as the Kolkhidskaya Lowlands encompasses the lower Rioni valley as well as most of the Georgian coast. Along with the Rioni, the Inguri and Kodori rivers flow through this fertile region.

Georgia’s climate ranges from year-round subtropical conditions on the Black Sea coast to continental conditions, with cold winters and hot summers, in the extreme east. The mountainous regions have cold, wet winters and cool summers, and the highest peaks are perpetually covered with snow. Annual precipitation also varies by region; along the coast it often exceeds 2,000 mm (80 in), while in the eastern plains it measures between 400 and 700 mm (20 and 30 in).

Georgia contains diverse plant and animal life. Land at lower elevations has been extensively reworked for agricultural purposes and contains little of its native wildlife. The gray marmot, ibex, and chamois, however, can be found in alpine areas, and wolves, foxes, roe deer, and badgers populate the forests. Dense forests and brush cover more than one-third of the country, mostly in the western and mountainous regions. In the eastern uplands, which are sparsely wooded, underbrush and grasses predominate.

Georgia’s natural resources include abundant mineral deposits, such as manganese, iron ore, coal, gold, marble, and alabaster. The republic’s many fast-flowing rivers are an important source of hydroelectricity, and forests provide pulp and timber. Substantial but as yet undeveloped oil deposits are located in the Black Sea shelf near the port cities of Bat’umi and P’ot’i.

Like other republics of the USSR, Georgia suffered severe environmental degradation during the Soviet period, when economic policies emphasizing heavy industry were implemented with little regard for their environmental consequences. As a legacy of these policies, Georgia now suffers from serious pollution. Air pollution is a problem in the major cities, particularly in Rustavi, which has a giant steelworks and other metallurgical industries. In addition, the Kura River and the Black Sea are heavily polluted with industrial waste. As a result of water pollution and the scarcity of water treatment, the incidence of digestive diseases in Georgia is high. The use of pesticides and fertilizers has increased soil toxicity.

Environmental protection did not become a major concern among Georgians until the mid-1980s, but even then systems to control harmful emissions were not readily available. Georgia’s economic problems have hindered the application of recent emission-control technologies. The protection of upland pastures and hill farms from soil erosion is another pressing issue that the government has not addressed owing to lack of economic resources. The government has ratified international environmental agreements pertaining to air pollution, biodiversity, climate change, ozone layer protection, ship pollution, and wetlands.

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