Kyrgyzstan, Land and Resources
The total area of Kyrgyzstan is 198,500 sq km (76,640 sq mi). The country is almost completely mountainous. More than half of Kyrgyzstan lies at an elevation higher than 2,500 m (8,200 ft), and only about one-eighth of the country lies lower than 1,500 m (4,900 ft). Glaciers and permanent snowfields cover more than 3 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s total land area. An underlying seismic belt causes frequent earthquakes.
Kyrgyzstan is located at the juncture of two great Central Asian mountain systems (the Tian Shan and the Pamirs). These two systems are geologically separated from each other in southern Kyrgyzstan, between the Alai Mountains of the Tian Shan and the Trans-Alai Range (Qatorkuhi Pasi Oloy) of the Pamirs. The Trans-Alai Range, which is the northernmost part of the Pamirs, forms part of Kyrgyzstan’s southern border with Tajikistan. The main ridge of the Tian Shan extends along Kyrgyzstan’s eastern border with China, on a northeastern axis. Victory Peak (known as Pik Pobedy in Russian and Jenish Chokosu in Kyrgyz) is the highest peak in the Tian Shan system at an elevation of 7,439 m (24,406 ft). Located on the Kyrgyz-China border in northeastern Kyrgyzstan, Victory Peak is also the highest point in Kyrgyzstan and the second highest peak in the former USSR. A series of mountain chains that are part of the Tian Shan system, including the Alatau ranges, spur off into Kyrgyzstan. Most of these ranges run generally east to west, but the Fergana Mountains in the central portion of the country run southeast to northwest. The Fergana Valley in the west and the Chu Valley in the north are among the few significant lowland areas in Kyrgyzstan.
The Naryn River, Kyrgyzstan’s largest river, originates in the mountains in the northeast and flows westward through the middle of the country. The Naryn then enters the Fergana Valley and crosses into Uzbekistan, where it joins with another river to form the Syr Darya, one of Central Asia’s principal rivers. The Chu River, in northern Kyrgyzstan, flows northward into southern Kazakhstan. Ysyk-Kol, the largest lake in Kyrgyzstan and one of the largest mountain lakes in the world, is located at an altitude of 1,607 m (5,273 ft) above sea level in the northeastern portion of the country.
Forests occupy 5 percent of the country’s land area. Coniferous trees such as the Tian Shan white spruce grow along lower valleys and on north-facing mountain slopes. Many rare animal species inhabit the woodlands, including the Tian Shan bear, the red wolf, and the snow leopard, which are protected by government decree. Other animals in Kyrgyzstan include deer, mountain goats, and mountain sheep. Kyrgyzstan’s mountain lakes are an annual refuge for thousands of migrating birds, including the mountain goose and other rare species.
Kyrgyzstan’s natural resources include significant deposits of gold and other minerals. Also present are deposits of coal, uranium, mercury, antimony, nepheline, bismuth, lead, and zinc. Exploitable but small reserves of oil and natural gas also exist. The country’s fast-flowing rivers provide hydroelectric power. Only 7 percent of the total land area is cultivated.
The country’s climate varies by region. The climate is subtropical in the Fergana Valley and temperate in the northern foothill zone. The lower mountain slopes have a dry continental climate, as they receive desert-warmed winds from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, whereas the highest mountain elevations have a polar climate. In the valleys, the average daily temperature in July is 28°C (82°F). In January daily averages are as low as -14° (7°F). Conditions are much colder at high elevations, where in July the average daily temperature is 5°C (41°F) and in January, -28°C (-18°F). Precipitation is between 100 and 500 mm (4 and 20 in) in the valleys and from 180 to 1,000 mm (7 to 40 in) in the mountains.
The environment of Kyrgyzstan suffers from the results of decades of ecological mismanagement. Industrial pollution is a problem in the cities. Water pollution is also a major problem, especially in the south, where water-borne diseases are prevalent. In agricultural areas, excessive irrigation and unrestrained use of agricultural chemicals have severely degraded soil quality. Overgrazing of livestock has also contributed to soil degradation, and a significant portion of Kyrgyzstan’s available grasslands has disappeared. Kyrgyzstan contains many abandoned uranium mines that are a potential threat to the environment.
Severe economic constraints have prevented the government from allocating significant funds for environmental improvements. However, with financial support from the international community, Kyrgyzstan has developed an environmental action plan designed to coordinate efforts to improve the environment. The government has designated 3.6 percent (1997) of the country’s land area protected and has ratified international environmental agreements pertaining to biodiversity, desertification, and hazardous wastes.