Location: Central Asia, west of China
Geographic coordinates: 41 00 N, 75 00 E
Map references: Commonwealth of Independent States
total: 198,500 sq km
land: 191,300 sq km
water: 7,200 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than South Dakota
total: 3,878 km
border countries: China 858 km, Kazakhstan 1,051 km, Tajikistan
870 km, Uzbekistan 1,099 km
Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)
Maritime claims: none (landlocked)
Climate: dry continental to polar in high Tien Shan; subtropical
in southwest (Fergana Valley); temperate in northern foothill zone
Terrain: peaks of Tien Shan and associated valleys and basins
encompass entire nation
lowest point: Kara-Darya 132 m
highest point: Jengish Chokusu (Pik Pobedy) 7,439 m
Natural resources: abundant hydropower; significant deposits
of gold and rare earth metals; locally exploitable coal, oil, and
natural gas; other deposits of nepheline, mercury, bismuth, lead,
arable land: 7%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 44%
forests and woodland: 4%
other: 45% (1993 est.)
note: Kyrgyzstan has the world's largest natural growth walnut
Irrigated land: 9,000 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: NA
Environment - current issues: water pollution; many people
get their water directly from contaminated streams and wells; as
a result, water-borne diseases are prevalent; increasing soil salinity
from faulty irrigation practices
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note: landlocked
Formal Name: Kyrgyz Republic.
Short Form: Kyrgyzstan.
Term for Citizens: Kyrgyzstani(s).
Date of Independence: August 31, 1991.
Size: Approximately 198,500 square kilometers.
Topography: Dominated by Tian Shan, Pamir, and
Alay mountain ranges; average elevation 2,750 meters. Mountains
separated by deep valleys and glaciers. Flat expanses only in northern
and eastern valleys. Many lakes and fast-flowing rivers draining
Climate: Chiefly determined by mountains, continental
with sharp local variations between mountain valleys and flatlands.
Precipitation also varies greatly from western mountains (high)
to north-central region (low).
Data as of March 1996
The smallest of the newly independent Central Asian states, Kyrgyzstan
is about the same size as the state of Nebraska, with a total area
of about 198,500 square kilometers. The national territory extends
about 900 kilometers from east to west and 410 kilometers from north
to south. Kyrgyzstan is bordered on the southeast by China, on the
north and west by Kazakstan, and on the south and west by Uzbekistan
and Tajikistan. One consequence of the Stalinist division of Central
Asia into five republics is that many ethnic Kyrgyz do not live
in Kyrgyzstan. Three enclaves, legally part of the territory of
Kyrgyzstan but geographically removed by several kilometers, have
been established, two in Uzbekistan and one in Tajikistan . The
terrain of Kyrgyzstan is dominated by the Tian Shan and Pamir mountain
systems, which together occupy about 65 percent of the national
territory. The Alay range portion of the Tian Shan system dominates
the southwestern crescent of the country, and, to the east, the
main Tian Shan range runs along the boundary between southern Kyrgyzstan
and China before extending farther east into China's Xinjiang Uygur
Autonomous Region. Kyrgyzstan's average elevation is 2,750 meters,
ranging from 7,439 meters at Pik Pobedy (Mount Victory) to 394 meters
in the Fergana Valley near Osh. Almost 90 percent of the country
lies more than 1,500 meters above sea level.
Data as of March 1996
Topography and Drainage
The mountains of Kyrgyzstan are geologically young, so that the
physical terrain is marked by sharply uplifted peaks separated by
deep valleys . There is also considerable glaciation. Kyrgyzstan's
6,500 distinct glaciers are estimated to hold about 650 billion
cubic meters of water. Only around the Chu, Talas, and Fergana valleys
is there relatively flat land suitable for large-scale agriculture.
Because the high peaks function as moisture catchers, Kyrgyzstan
is relatively well watered by the streams that descend from them.
None of the rivers of Kyrgyzstan are navigable, however. The majority
are small, rapid, runoff streams. Most of Kyrgyzstan's rivers are
tributaries of the Syrdariya, which has its headwaters in the western
Tian Shan along the Chinese border. Another large runoff system
forms the Chu River, which arises in northern Kyrgyzstan, then flows
northwest and disappears into the deserts of southern Kazakstan.
Ysyk-Kφl is the second largest body of water in Central Asia, after
the Aral Sea, but the saline lake has been shrinking steadily, and
its mineral content has been rising gradually. Kyrgyzstan has a
total of about 2,000 lakes with a total surface area of 7,000 square
kilometers, mostly located at altitudes of 3,000 to 4,000 meters.
Only the largest three, however, occupy more than 500 square kilometers.
The second- and third-largest lakes, Songkφl and Chatyr-Kφl (the
latter of which also is saline), are located in the Naryn Basin.
Natural disasters have been frequent and varied. Overgrazing and
deforestation of steep mountain slopes have increased the occurrence
of mudslides and avalanches, which occasionally have swallowed entire
villages. In August 1992, a severe earthquake left several thousand
people homeless in the southwestern city of Jalal-Abad.
Data as of March 1996
The country's climate is influenced chiefly by the mountains, Kyrgyzstan's
position near the middle of the Eurasian landmass, and the absence
of any body of water large enough to influence weather patterns.
Those factors create a distinctly continental climate that has significant
local variations. Although the mountains tend to collect clouds
and block sunlight (reducing some narrow valleys at certain times
of year to no more than three or four hours of sunlight per day),
the country is generally sunny, receiving as much as 2,900 hours
of sunlight per year in some areas. The same conditions also affect
temperatures, which can vary significantly from place to place.
In January the warmest average temperature (-4°C) occurs around
the southern city of Osh, and around Ysyk-Kφl. The latter, which
has a volume of 1,738 cubic kilometers, does not freeze in winter.
Indeed, its name means "hot lake" in Kyrgyz. The coldest temperatures
are in mountain valleys. There, readings can fall to -30°C or
lower; the record is -53.6°C. The average temperature for July
similarly varies from 27°C in the Fergana Valley, where the
record high is 44°C, to a low of -10°C on the highest mountain
peaks. Precipitation varies from 2,000 millimeters per year in the
mountains above the Fergana Valley to less than 100 millimeters
per year on the west bank of Ysyk-Kφl.
Data as of March 1996
Kyrgyzstan has been spared many of the enormous environmental problems
faced by its Central Asian neighbors, primarily because its designated
roles in the Soviet system involved neither heavy industry nor large-scale
cotton production. Also, the economic downturn of the early 1990s
reduced some of the more serious effects of industrial and agricultural
policy. Nevertheless, Kyrgyzstan has serious problems because of
inefficient use and pollution of water resources, land degradation,
and improper agricultural practices.
Although Kyrgyzstan has abundant water running through it, its
water supply is determined by a post-Soviet sharing agreement among
the five Central Asian republics. As in the Soviet era, Kyrgyzstan
has the right to 25 percent of the water that originates in its
territory, but the new agreement allows Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan
unlimited use of the water that flows into them from Kyrgyzstan,
with no compensation for the nation at the source. Kyrgyzstan uses
the entire amount to which the agreement entitles it, but utilization
is skewed heavily in favor of agricultural irrigation. In 1994 agriculture
accounted for about 88 percent of total water consumption, compared
with 8 percent by industry and 4 percent by municipal water distribution
systems. According to World Bank experts, Kyrgyzstan has an adequate
supply of high-quality water for future use, provided the resource
is prudently managed.
Irrigation is extremely wasteful of water because the distribution
infrastructure is old and poorly maintained. In 1993 only an estimated
5 percent of required maintenance expenditures was allocated. Overall,
an estimated 70 percent of the nation's water supply network is
in need of repair or replacement. The quality of drinking water
from this aging system is poorly monitored--the water management
staff has been cut drastically because of inadequate funds. Further,
there is no money to buy new water disinfection equipment when it
is needed. Some aquifers near industrial and mining centers have
been contaminated by heavy metals, oils, and sanitary wastes. In
addition, many localities rely on surface sources, making users
vulnerable to agricultural runoff and livestock waste, which seep
gradually downward from the surface. The areas of lowest water quality
are the heavily populated regions of the Chu Valley and Osh and
Jalal-Abad provinces, and areas along the rivers flowing into Ysyk-Kφl.
In towns, wastewater collection provides about 70 percent of the
water supply. Although towns have biological treatment equipment,
as much as 50 percent of such equipment is rated as ineffective.
The major sources of toxic waste in the water supply are the mercury
mining combine at Haidarkan; the antimony mine at Kadamzai; the
Kadzyi Sai uranium mine, which ceased extraction in 1967 but which
continues to leach toxic materials into nearby Ysyk Kφl; the Kara-Balta
Uranium Recovery Plant; the Min Kush deposit of mine tailings; and
the Kyrgyz Mining and Metallurgy Plant at Orlovka.
The most important problems in land use are soil erosion and salinization
in improperly irrigated farmland. An estimated 60 percent of Kyrgyzstan's
land is affected by topsoil loss, and 6 percent by salinization,
both problems with more serious long-term than short-term effects.
In 1994 the size of livestock herds averaged twice the carrying
capacity of pasturage land, continuing the serious overgrazing problem
and consequent soil erosion that began when the herds were at their
peak in the late 1980s . Uncertain land tenure and overall financial
insecurity have caused many private farmers to concentrate their
capital in the traditional form--livestock--thus subjecting new
land to the overgrazing problem.
The inherent land shortage in Kyrgyzstan is exacerbated by the
flooding of agricultural areas for hydroelectric projects. The creation
of Toktogol Reservoir on the Naryn River, for example, involved
the flooding of 13,000 hectares of fertile land. Such projects have
the additional effect of constricting downstream water supply; Toktogol
deprives the lower reaches of the Syrdariya in Uzbekistan and the
Aral Sea Basin of substantial amounts of water. Because the Naryn
Basin, where many hydroelectric projects are located, is very active
seismically, flooding is also a danger should a dam be broken by
an earthquake. Several plants are now in operation in zones where
Richter Scale readings may reach eleven.
The Aral Sea
In response to the internationally recognized environmental crisis
of the rapid desiccation of the Aral Sea, the five states sharing
the Aral Sea Basin (Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan,
and Uzbekistan) are developing a strategy to end the crisis. The
World Bank and agencies of the United Nations (UN) have developed
an Aral Sea Program, the first stage of which is funded by the five
countries and external donors. That stage has seven areas of focus,
one of which--land and water management in the upper watersheds--is
of primary concern to Kyrgyzstan. Among the conditions detrimental
to the Aral Sea's environment are erosion from deforestation and
overgrazing, contamination from poorly managed irrigation systems,
and uncontrolled waste from mining and municipal effluents. Kyrgyzstan's
National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP) has addressed these problems
as part of its first-phase priorities in cooperation with the Aral
Environmental Policy Making
The NEAP, adopted in 1994, is the basic blueprint for environmental
protection. The plan focuses on solving a small number of critical
problems, collecting reliable information to aid in that process,
and integrating environmental measures with economic and social
development strategy. The initial planning period is to end in 1997.
The main targets of that phase are inefficient water resource management,
land degradation, overexploitation of forest reserves, loss of biodiversity,
and pollution from inefficient mining and refining practices.
Because of severe budget constraints, most of the funds for NEAP
operations come from international sources, including official institutions
such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank and numerous
international nongovernmental organizations. Implementation is guided
by a committee of state ministers and by a NEAP Expert Working Group,
both established in 1994 by executive order. A NEAP office in Bishkek
was set up with funds from Switzerland.
The main environmental protection agency of the Kyrgyzstani government
is the State Committee on Environmental Protection, still known
by its Soviet-era acronym, Goskompriroda. Established by the old
regime in 1988, the agency's post-Soviet responsibilities have been
described in a series of decrees beginning in 1991. In 1994 the
state committee had a central office in Bishkek, one branch in each
of the seven provinces, and a total staff of about 150 persons.
Because of poorly defined lines of responsibility, administrative
conflicts often occur between local and national authorities of
Goskompriroda and between Goskompriroda and a second national agency,
the Hydrometeorological Administration (Gidromet), which is the
main monitoring agency for air, water, and soil quality. In general,
the vertical hierarchy structure, a relic of Soviet times, has led
to poor coordination and duplication of effort among environmental
Data as of March 1996