Location: Eastern Europe, east of Poland
Geographic coordinates: 53 00 N, 28 00 E
Map references: Commonwealth of Independent States
total: 207,600 sq km
land: 207,600 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than Kansas
total: 3,098 km
border countries: Latvia 141 km, Lithuania 502 km, Poland
605 km, Russia 959 km, Ukraine 891 km
Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)
Maritime claims: none (landlocked)
Climate: cold winters, cool and moist summers; transitional
between continental and maritime
Terrain: generally flat and contains much marshland
lowest point: Nyoman River 90 m
highest point: Dzyarzhynskaya Hara 346 m
Natural resources: forests, peat deposits, small quantities
of oil and natural gas
arable land: 29%
permanent crops: 1%
permanent pastures: 15%
forests and woodland: 34%
other: 21% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 1,000 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: NA
Environment - current issues: soil pollution from pesticide
use; southern part of the country contaminated with fallout from
1986 nuclear reactor accident at Chornobyl' in northern Ukraine
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air
Pollution-Sulphur 85, Biodiversity, Endangered Species, Environmental
Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban,
Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Climate Change, Law of the Sea
Geography - note: landlocked
Size: Approximately 207,600 square kilometers.
Topography: Hilly landscape with many lakes and
gently sloping ridges created by glaciers in north; low-lying swampy
plain in south. One-third of country covered by unpopulated forest
tracts. Highest point 346 meters.
Climate: Temperate continental. Average annual
precipitation ranges from 550 to 700 millimeters and is sometimes
Data as of June 1995
Topography and Drainage
Belarus, a generally flat country (the average elevation is 162
meters above sea level) without natural borders, occupies an area
of 207,600 square kilometers, or slightly smaller than the state
of Kansas. Its neighbors are Russia to the east and northeast, Latvia
to the north, Lithuania to the northwest, Poland to the west, and
Ukraine to the south.
Belarus's mostly level terrain is broken up by the Belarusian Range
(Byelaruskaya Hrada), a swath of elevated territory, composed of
individual highlands, that runs diagonally through the country from
west-southwest to east-northeast. Its highest point is the 346-meter
Mount Dzyarzhynskaya (Dzerzhinskaya, in Russian), named for Feliks
Dzerzhinskiy, head of Russia's security apparatus under Stalin.
Northern Belarus has a picturesque, hilly landscape with many lakes
and gently sloping ridges created by glacial debris. In the south,
about one-third of the republic's territory around the Prypyats'
(Pripyat', in Russian) River is taken up by the low-lying swampy
plain of the Belarusian Woodland, or Palyessye (Poles'ye in Russian).
Belarus's 3,000 streams and 4,000 lakes are major features of the
landscape and are used for floating timber, shipping, and power
generation. Major rivers are the west-flowing Zakhodnyaya Dzvina
(Zapadnaya Dvina in Russian) and Nyoman (Neman in Russian) rivers,
and the south-flowing Dnyapro (Dnepr in Russian) with its tributaries,
Byarezina (Berezina in Russian), Sozh, and Prypyats' rivers. The
Prypyats' River has served as a bridge between the Dnyapro flowing
to Ukraine and the Vistula in Poland since the period of Kievan
Rus'. Lake Narach (Naroch', in Russian), the country's largest lake,
covers eighty square kilometers.
Nearly one-third of the country is covered with pushchy
(sing., pushcha), large unpopulated tracts of forests.
In the north, conifers predominate in forests that also include
birch and alder; farther south, other deciduous trees grow. The
Belavezhskaya (Belovezhskaya, in Russian) Pushcha in the far west
is the oldest and most magnificent of the forests; a reservation
here shelters animals and birds that became extinct elsewhere long
ago. The reservation spills across the border into Poland; both
countries jointly administer it.
Data as of June 1995
Because of the proximity of the Baltic Sea (257 meters at the closest
point), the country's climate is temperate continental. Winters
last between 105 and 145 days, and summers last up to 150 days.
The average temperature in January is -6°C, and the average
temperature for July is about 18°C, with high humidity. Average
annual precipitation ranges from 550 to 700 millimeters and is sometimes
Data as of June 1995
The most notorious legacy of pollution from the communist era is
the April 26, 1986, accident at the Chornobyl' nuclear power plant
in Ukraine. Some 70 percent of the radiation spewed was carried
by the wind to Belarus, where it affected at least 25 percent of
the country--especially the Homyel' (Gomel' in Russian) and Mahilyow
(Mogilëv in Russian) voblastsi (sing., voblasts'),
or counties, in the south and southeast, and 22 percent of the population.
Although more than 2 million people (including 600,000 children)
lived in areas affected by fallout from the disaster, the Soviet
government tried to cover up the accident until Swedish scientists
pressed for an explanation of the unusually high levels of atmospheric
radiation in Sweden.
The Belorussian government's request to the Soviet government for
a minimum of 17 billion rubles to deal with the consequences was
answered with Moscow's offer of only 3 billion rubles. According
to one official in 1993, the per capita expenditure on the accident
was one kopek in Russia, three kopeks in Ukraine, and one ruble
(100 kopeks) in Belarus.
Despite the government's establishment of the State Committee for
Chornobyl', the enactment of laws limiting who may stay in contaminated
areas, and the institution of a national program for research on
the effects, little progress was made in coping with the consequences
of the disaster, owing to the lack of money and the government's
sluggish attitude. In 1994 a resettlement program for 170,000 residents
was woefully underbudgeted and far behind schedule. To assist victims
of Chornobyl', a Western organization, the Know-How Fund, provided
many Belarusian doctors with training in the latest bone-marrow
techniques in Europe and the United States.
The long-range effects of the disaster include an increasing incidence
of various kinds of cancer and birth defects; congenital defects
in newborns are reported to be 40 percent higher than before the
accident. Tainted water, livestock, farm produce, and land are widespread,
and the extensive wetlands retain high concentrations of radiation.
Cleanup of the disaster accounted for 14 percent of the state budget
in 1995. Other environmental problems include widespread chemical
pollution of the soil, which shows excessive pesticide levels, and
the industrial pollution found in nearly all the large cities.
Data as of June 1995