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Geography, climate and population
Afghanistan is a landlocked country in Central Asia with a total area of about 652 000 km2 (Table 1). It is bordered by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to the north, China to the northeast, Pakistan to the east and south and the Islamic Republic of Iran to the west. It is characterized by its rugged terrain and an average elevation of 1 100 m above sea level, ranging from 150 to 8 000 m. One-quarter of the country’s land lies at more than 2 500 m above sea level.
About three-quarters of the territory is comprised of mountains and hills, while lowlands include river valleys in the north and desert regions in the south and southeast. The Hindu Kush range, the westernmost extension of the Himalaya-Pamir mountain range, divides the country from west to east, while the Suleiman and Karakoram mountains flank the southern border with Pakistan. Major river valleys radiate from these mountains to the north, west and south, creating fertile valleys along which most agricultural and irrigation development occurs (Rout, 2008).
Administratively, the country is divided into 34 provinces (welayat): Badakhshan, Badghis, Baghlan, Balkh, Bamyan, Daykundi, Farah, Faryab, Ghazni, Ghor, Helmand, Herat, Jawzjan, Kabul, Kandahar, Kapisa, Khost, Kunar, Kunduz, Laghman, Logar, Nangarhar, Nimroz, Nuristan, Paktika, Paktya, Panjshir, Parwan, Samangan, Sari Pul, Takhar, Uruzgan, Wardak and Zabul.
In 2009, cultivated area was an estimated 7.91 million ha, of which 7.79 million were under temporary crops and 0.12 million ha under permanent. The major cultivated area is located in the north and west of the country.
Afghanistan is characterized by a dry continental climate, though the mountains cause many local variations. Temperatures vary from minus 10 °C in winter to 34 °C in summer. Annual distribution of rainfall is that of an essentially arid country, more than 50 percent of the territory receives less than 300 mm of rain. The eastern border regions are an exception, as they lie at the limit of monsoon influence. About 50 percent of precipitation occurs in winter (January to March), much of which falls as snow in the central mountainous regions. A further 30 percent falls in spring (April to June). Runoff from snowmelt in the spring and summer months, when day temperatures are high, is the lifeblood of Afghan agriculture.
In 2011, total population was an estimated 32.3 million inhabitants, of which 77 percent rural (80 percent in 1999). The population density is about 50 inhabitants/km2 (Table 1). During the period 2001–2011 annual population growth rate was an estimated 3.2 percent.
In 2010, half the population had access to improved water sources (78 and 42 percent in urban and rural areas respectively). Sanitation coverage accounted for 37 percent (60 and 30 percent in urban and rural areas respectively).