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Land and Resources, Rivers and Lakes

Syr Darya, saltwater lake, Aral Sea, largest freshwater lake, Panj

Uzbekistan generally lies between the two largest rivers of Central Asia, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. These two roughly parallel rivers both have their headwaters in the mountains east of Uzbekistan and follow northwesterly courses toward the Aral Sea, a saltwater lake straddling the border between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Since the early 1960s the Aral Sea has shrunk to less than half its former size, and dry land has separated the remaining water into two main lakes. Uzbekistan’s largest river is the Amu Darya. This river is formed by the confluence of the Panj and Vakhsh rivers on the extreme southwestern border of Tajikistan, near the southeastern tip of Uzbekistan. The Amu Darya traverses a course generally parallel to, and at times part of, Uzbekistan’s southern borders with Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, then turns due north through Uzbekistan’s Qoraqalpogh Autonomous Republic toward the southern section of the Aral Sea. The Syr Darya is formed in the fertile Fergana (Farghona) Valley by the convergence of two rivers flowing from the east, the Naryn and Qoradaryo. The Syr Darya then flows westward through this valley and northern Tajikistan, turns north to cut through Uzbekistan, and enters Kazakhstan, eventually reaching the northern section of the Aral Sea.

Another important river is the Zeravshan, which flows westward from the mountains of Tajikistan through east central Uzbekistan. Before it began to be tapped for irrigation, the Zeravshan was the Amu Darya’s largest tributary; now it dissipates in the Qyzylqum desert near the city of Bukhoro (Bukhara). Uzbekistan has thousands of small streams that expire in the desert, many having been emptied by irrigation.

Extensive canal systems, such as the Amu-Bukhoro canal and many others built during the Soviet period, have greatly altered water-flow patterns. Artificial lakes and reservoirs have been created, many of which are fed by irrigation runoff. The largest freshwater lake is Lake Aydarkul, in northeastern Uzbekistan.

Article key phrases:

Syr Darya, saltwater lake, Aral Sea, largest freshwater lake, Panj, Artificial lakes, Bukhara, southern section, northern section, headwaters, confluence, Afghanistan, dry land, irrigation, mountains, reservoirs, convergence, Kazakhstan, Valley, Turkmenistan, times, size


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