Ashkhabad / Ahal, Turkmenistan
Location: Central Asia, bordering the Caspian Sea, between
Iran and Kazakhstan
Geographic coordinates: 40 00 N, 60 00 E
Map references: Commonwealth of Independent States
total: 488,100 sq km
land: 488,100 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly larger than California
total: 3,736 km
border countries: Afghanistan 744 km, Iran 992 km, Kazakhstan
379 km, Uzbekistan 1,621 km
Coastline: 0 km
note: Turkmenistan borders the Caspian Sea (1,768 km)
Maritime claims: none (landlocked)
Climate: subtropical desert
Terrain: flat-to-rolling sandy desert with dunes rising
to mountains in the south; low mountains along border with Iran;
borders Caspian Sea in west
lowest point: Vpadina Akchanaya -81 m (note - Sarygamysh
Koli is a lake in north eastern Turkmenistan whose water levels
fluctuate widely; at its shallowest, its level is -110 m; it is
presently at -60 m, 20 m above Vpadina Akchanaya)
highest point: Ayrybaba 3,139 m
Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, coal, sulfur,
arable land: 3%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 63%
forests and woodland: 8%
other: 26% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 13,000 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: NA
Environment - current issues: contamination of soil and
groundwater with agricultural chemicals, pesticides; salination,
water-logging of soil due to poor irrigation methods; Caspian Sea
pollution; diversion of a large share of the flow of the Amu Darya
into irrigation contributes to that river's inability to replenish
the Aral Sea; desertification
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto
Protocol, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Ozone Layer Protection
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note: landlocked
Formal Name: Republic of Turkmenistan.
Short Form: Turkmenistan.
Term for Citizens: Turkmenistani(s).
Date of Independence: October 27, 1991.
Size: Approximately 488,100 square kilometers.
Topography: Center of country dominated by Turan
Depres-sion and Garagum Desert, flatlands of which occupy nearly
80 percent of country's area; Kopetdag Range along southwestern
border reaches 2,912 meters; Balkan Mountains in far west and Kugitang
Range in far east only other appreciable elevations.
Climate: Subtropical, desert, and severely continental,
with little rainfall; winters mild and dry, most precipitation falling
between January and May. Heaviest precipitation in Kopetdag Range.
Data as of March 1996
Turkmenistan is the southernmost republic of the Commonwealth
of Independent States (CIS-- ), the loose federation created at
the end of 1991 by most of the post-Soviet states. Its longest border
is with the Caspian Sea (1,786 kilometers). The other borders are
with Iran (to the south, 992 kilometers), Afghanistan (to the south,
744 kilometers), Uzbekistan (to the north and east, 1,621 kilometers)
and Kazakstan (to the north, 379 kilometers). Turkmenistan is slightly
larger than California in territory, occupying 488,100 square kilometers.
That statistic ranks Turkmenistan fourth among the former Soviet
republics. The country's greatest extent from west to east is 1,100
kilometers, and its greatest north-to-south distance is 650 kilometers
Data as of March 1996
Turkmenistan's average elevation is 100 to 220 meters above sea
level, with its highest point being Mount Ayrybaba (3,137 meters)
in the Kugitang Range of the Pamir-Alay chain in the far east, and
its lowest point in the Transcaspian Depression (100 kilometers
below sea level). Nearly 80 percent of the republic lies within
the Turon Depression, which slopes from south to north and from
east to west.
Turkmenistan's mountains include 600 kilometers of the northern
reaches of the Kopetdag Range, which it shares with Iran. The Kopetdag
Range is a region characterized by foothills, dry and sandy slopes,
mountain plateaus, and steep ravines; Mount Shahshah (2,912 meters),
southwest of Ashgabat, is the highest elevation of the range in
Turkmenistan. The Kopetdag is undergoing tectonic transformation,
meaning that the region is threatened by earthquakes such as the
one that destroyed Ashgabat in 1948 and registered nine on the Richter
Scale. The Krasnovodsk and άstirt plateaus are the prominent topographical
features of northwestern Turkmenistan.
A dominant feature of the republic's landscape is the Garagum
Desert, which occupies about 350,000 square kilometers (see Environmental
Issues, this ch.). Shifting winds create desert mountains that range
from two to twenty meters in height and may be several kilometers
in length. Chains of such structures are common, as are steep elevations
and smooth, concrete-like clay deposits formed by the rapid evaporation
of flood waters in the same area for a number of years. Large marshy
salt flats, formed by capillary action in the soil, exist in many
depressions, including the Kara Shor, which occupies 1,500 square
kilometers in the northwest. The Sundukly Desert west of the Amu
Darya is the southernmost extremity of the Qizilqum (Russian spelling
Kyzyl Kum) Desert, most of which lies in Uzbekistan to the northeast.
Data as of March 1996
Turkmenistan has a subtropical desert climate that is severely
continental. Summers are long (from May through September), hot,
and dry, while winters generally are mild and dry, although occasionally
cold and damp in the north. Most precipitation falls between January
and May; precipitation is slight throughout the country, with annual
averages ranging from 300 millimeters in the Kopetdag to eighty
millimeters in the northwest. The capital, Ashgabat, close to the
Iranian border in south-central Turkmenistan, averages 225 millimeters
of rainfall annually. Average annual temperatures range from highs
of 16.8°C in Ashgabat to lows of -5.5°C in Dashhowuz, on
the Uzbek border in north-central Turkmenistan. The almost constant
winds are northerly, northeasterly, or westerly.
Data as of March 1996
Almost 80 percent of the territory of Turkmenistan lacks a constant
source of surface water flow. Its main rivers are located only in
the southern and eastern peripheries; a few smaller rivers on the
northern slopes of the Kopetdag are diverted entirely to irrigation.
The most important river is the Amu Darya, which has a total length
of 2,540 kilometers from its farthest tributary, making it the longest
river in Central Asia. The Amu Darya flows across northeastern Turkmenistan,
thence eastward to form the southern borders of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Damming and irrigation uses of the Amu Darya have had severe environmental
effects on the Aral Sea, into which the river flows (see Environmental
Issues, this ch.). The river's average annual flow is 1,940 cubic
meters per second. Other major rivers are the Tejen (1,124 kilometers);
the Murgap (852 kilometers); and the Atrek (660 kilometers).
Data as of March 1996
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, environmental regulation
is largely unchanged in Turkmenistan. The new government created
the Ministry of Natural Resources Use and Environmental Protection
in July 1992, with departments responsible for environmental protection,
protection of flora and fauna, forestry, hydrometeorology, and administrative
planning. Like other CIS republics, Turkmenistan has established
an Environmental Fund based on revenues collected from environmental
fines, but the fines generally are too low to accumulate significant
revenue. Thanks to the former Soviet system of game preserves and
the efforts of the Society for Nature Conservation and the Academy
of Sciences, flora and fauna receive some protection in the republic;
however, "hard-currency hunts" by wealthy Western and Arab businesspeople
already are depleting animals on preserves.
According to estimates, as a result of desertification processes
and pollution, biological productivity of the ecological systems
in Turkmenistan has declined by 30 to 50 percent in recent decades.
The Garagum and Qizilqum deserts are expanding at a rate surpassed
on a planetary scale only by the desertification process in the
Sahara and Sahel regions of Africa. Between 800,000 and 1,000,000
hectares of new desert now appears per year in Central Asia.
The most irreparable type of desertification is the salinization
process that forms marshy salt flats. A major factor that contributes
to these conditions is inefficient use of water because of weak
regulation and failure to charge for water that is used. Efficiency
in application of water to the fields is low, but the main problem
is leakage in main and secondary canals, especially Turkmenistan's
main canal, the Garagum Canal. Nearly half of the canal's water
seeps out into lakes and salt swamps along its path. Excessive irrigation
brings salts to the surface, forming salt marshes that dry into
unusable clay flats. In 1989 Turkmenistan's Institute for Desert
Studies claimed that the area of such flats had reached one million
The type of desertification caused by year-round pasturing of
cattle has been termed the most devastating in Central Asia, with
the gravest situations in Turkmenistan and the Kazak steppe along
the eastern and northern coasts of the Caspian Sea. Wind erosion
and desertification also are severe in settled areas along the Garagum
Canal; planted windbreaks have died because of soil waterlogging
and/or salinization. Other factors promoting desertification are
the inadequacy of the collector-drainage system built in the 1950s
and inappropriate application of chemicals.
The Aral Sea
Turkmenistan both contributes to and suffers from the consequences
of the desiccation of the Aral Sea. Because of excessive irrigation,
Turkmen agriculture contributes to the steady drawdown of sea levels.
In turn, the Aral Sea's desiccation, which had shrunk that body
of water by an estimated 59,000 square kilometers by 1994, profoundly
affects economic productivity and the health of the population of
the republic. Besides the cost of ameliorating damaged areas and
the loss of at least part of the initial investment in them, salinization
and chemicalization of land have reduced agricultural productivity
in Central Asia by an estimated 20 to 25 percent. Poor drinking
water is the main health risk posed by such environmental degradation.
In Dashhowuz Province, which has suffered the greatest ecological
damage from the Aral Sea's desiccation, bacteria levels in drinking
water exceeded ten times the sanitary level; 70 percent of the population
has experienced illnesses, many with hepatitis, and infant mortality
is high (see table 5, Appendix; Health Conditions, this ch.). Experts
have warned that inhabitants will have to evacuate the province
by the end of the century unless a comprehensive cleanup program
is undertaken. Turkmenistan has announced plans to clean up some
of the Aral Sea fallout with financial support from the World Bank
The most productive cotton lands in Turkmenistan (the middle and
lower Amu Darya and the Murgap oasis) receive as much as 250 kilograms
of fertilizer per hectare, compared with the average application
of thirty kilograms per hectare. Furthermore, most fertilizers are
so poorly applied that experts have estimated that only 15 to 40
percent of the chemicals can be absorbed by cotton plants, while
the remainder washes into the soil and subsequently into the groundwater.
Cotton also uses far more pesticides and defoliants than other crops,
and application of these chemicals often is mishandled by farmers.
For example, local herdsmen, unaware of the danger of DDT, have
reportedly mixed the pesticide with water and applied it to their
faces to keep away mosquitoes. In the late 1980s, a drive began
in Central Asia to reduce agrochemical usage. In Turkmenistan the
campaign reduced fertilizer use 30 percent between 1988 and 1989.
In the early 1990s, use of some pesticides and defoliants declined
drastically because of the country's shortage of hard currency.
Data as of March 1996