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Geography, climate and population
Estonia, with a total area of 45 230 km², is one of the three Baltic states. It is bordered in the north by the Gulf of Finland, in the east by the Russian Federation, in the south by Latvia and in the west by the Baltic Sea. Restoration of its independence from the Soviet Union took place in August 1991. Administratively, Estonia is divided into 15 counties. The capital is Tallin.
Estonia is situated on the southern slope of the Fennoscadian shield. The land rose from the sea bed and its surface is relatively flat with an average altitude of 50 m above sea level. The higher areas are the Haanja uplands in the southeast, with a peak of 318 m, and the Pandivere uplands in the northeast, with a peak of 166 m.
More than 1 500 islands in the Baltic Sea are part of Estonia, constituting 9 percent of the total area of the country. Approximately half of the country is covered with forests and 23 percent with wetlands and natural grasslands (Lääne and Reisner, 2011). The soils are generally heavy and stony.
The agricultural area, which is the sum of arable land, permanent crops and permanent meadows and pasture, is estimated at 966 000 ha, which is 21 percent of the total area of the country. In 2014, the total physical cultivated area was estimated at 638 000 ha, of which 99 percent (632 000 ha) consisted of temporary crops and 1 percent (6 000 ha) of permanent crops (Table 1).
Estonia lies in the transition zone between maritime and continental climate. The Baltic Sea has an impact on the climate throughout the country, warming up the coastal zone in winter and having a cooling effect especially in spring. The summers are moderately warm (average temperature in July is 15-17°C) and the winters are moderately cold (average temperature in February is between –3.5 and –7.5°C).
The average precipitation is about 550-650 mm/year, ranging from 520 mm on some islands to almost 730 mm in the uplands. The driest months are February and March. From then on, precipitation gradually increases until July and August, after which it decreases towards winter and spring (Climate Adaptation, 2015).
In 2015, the total population was about 1.3 million, of which around 34 percent was rural (Table 1). Average population density in the country is 29 inhabitants/km², varying from 130 inhabitants/km² in the Harju county where the capital Tallin is located to 10 inhabitants/km² in Hiiumaa island, located to the west of the mainland. The average annual population growth rate in the 2005-2015 period has been estimated at minus 0.3 percent.
In 2014, the Human Development Index (HDI) ranks Estonia 30 among 188 countries, while the Gender Inequality Index (GII) ranks it 33 among 155 countries, for which information was available. Life expectancy is 76 years and the under-five mortality is 3 per 1000 births, both progressing from 67 years and 18 per 1000 in the 1990s. With no significant distinction between boys and girls, around 95 percent of the children in 2013 are enrolled in primary education, but only 89 percent in secondary education (WB, 2015). In 2015, the whole population had access to improved water sources and 97 percent had access to improved sanitation (98 and 97 percent in urban and rural areas respectively) (JMP, 2015).