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Geography, climate and population
The Kingdom of Bahrain is a group of islands located off the central southern shores of the Persian Gulf. The archipelago comprises 40 islands, with a total land area of about 710 km2 (Table 1). The largest of these is Bahrain Island where the capital city, Manama, is situated. Bahrain Island accounts for nearly 85 percent of the total area of the country. Next largest is the southern archipelago called Hawar (50 km2), not far from the coast of Qatar, followed by the desert island of Umm Nasan (19 km2), the populous Muharraq Island (18 km2) connected by causeways to Bahrain, and finally Sitra (10 km2), a mainly industrial island also connected to Bahrain by causeways. The remaining small islands, islets and coral reefs make up the rest of the land mass (around 1.5 percent).
Bahrain is low lying. Limestone bedrock slopes rise gently towards the roughly central peak of Jebel Dukhan, with its highest point at 137 meters above sea level. Land use varies greatly, from extensive urban development and diligently cultivated areas in the north, to sandy wastes spreading south, east and west from Jebel Dukhan. Here there are true desert conditions with only sparse tough desert plants growing among the barren limestone rimrock and sands of varying depth.
Bahrain has an arid to extremely arid environment. According to the aridity criteria used, Bahrain has been regarded as arid or hyperarid as a result of the very great variations in climatic conditions (Elagib and Abdu, 1996). The country is characterized by high temperatures, erratic and often scanty rainfall, high evapotranspiration rates (with peaks of over 10 mm/day in July) and high humidity levels due to the surrounding Gulf waters.
Temperature averages from 17 °C in winter (December-March) to 35 °C in summer (June-September). The rainy season runs from November to April, with an annual average of 83 mm, sufficient only to support the most drought resistant desert vegetation. Mean annual relative humidity is over 67 percent. The annual average potential evaporation is 2 099 mm (Al-Noaimi, 2005).
Total population is 727 000 (2005), of which around 10 percent is rural (Table 1). With a population density of 1 024 inhabitants/km2, Bahrain is one of the world’s most densely populated countries. It has experienced high rates of population growth and urbanization since the early 1960s following the sudden increase in the country’s oil revenues, leading to a fast increase in its economic base and an improvement in the standard of living. The average annual demographic growth rate was 4 percent during the period 1980-1991 but this has dropped to 2.5 percent during the last 10 years. The water supply and sanitation coverage are 100 percent in urban areas. The total economically active population is 353 000 (2005), of which 77 percent are men and 23 percent women. Only 3 000 people work in agriculture.
Urban development at the expense of agricultural land has caused a significant loss of traditionally agricultural areas. Furthermore, soil salinization resulting from deterioration in the quality of the groundwater used in irrigation has led to a general reduction of cultivated land. In 2005, the total cultivated area was estimated at 6 000 ha, or 8 percent of the total area of the country, of which around 95 percent was equipped for irrigation. This area is mainly used for growing date palms, alfalfa and vegetables (FAO, 2002).