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Iran (Islamic Republic of)
Geography, climate and population
The Islamic Republic of Iran covers a total area of about 1.75 million km2. The country is bordered by Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea and Turkmenistan to the north, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east, the Gulf of Oman, the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf to the south, and Iraq and Turkey to the west. About 52 percent of the country consists of mountains and deserts and some 16 percent of the country has an elevation of more than 2 000 m above sea level. The largest mountain massif is that of the Zagros, which runs from the northwest of the country southwards first to the shores of the Persian Gulf and then continues eastwards till the most south-eastern province. Other mountain ranges run from the northwest to the east along the southern edge of the Caspian Sea. Finally, there are several scattered mountain chains along the eastern frontier of the country. The Central or Interior Plateau is located in between these mountain chains and covers over 50 percent of the country. It is partly covered by a remarkable salt swamp (kavir) and partly by areas of loose sand or stones with stretches of better land near the foothills of the surrounding mountains.
The cultivable area is estimated at about 51 million ha, which is 29 percent of the total area. In 2005 18.1 million ha were cultivated. Of this area, 16.5 million ha consisted of annual crops and 1.6 million ha of permanent crops (Table 1). In 2003, 72.5 percent of the landholders cultivated less than 5 ha, 22.5 percent between 5 and 20 ha, and only 5 percent more than 20 ha.
The climate of the Islamic Republic of Iran is one of great extremes due to its geographic location and varied topography. The summer is extremely hot with temperatures in the interior rising possibly higher than anywhere else in the world; certainly over 55 °C has been recorded. In winter, however, the great altitude of much of the country and its continental situation result in far lower temperatures than one would expect to find in a country in such low latitudes. Minus Temperatures of –30 °C can be recorded in the northwest and –20 °C is common in many places.
Annual rainfall ranges from less than 50 mm in the deserts to 2 275 mm in Rasht near the Caspian Sea. The average annual rainfall is 228 mm and approximately 90 percent of the country is arid or semi-arid. About 23 percent of the rain falls in spring, 4 percent in summer, 23 percent in autumn and 50 percent in winter.
Total population is about 69.5 million (2005), of which 32 percent are living in rural areas (Table 1). This means that the ratio between urban and rural population has been reversed over the last 50 years, the urban population being around 31 percent in 1955 (Mahmoodian, 2001). Average population density is 40 inhabitants/km2, but ranges from less than 10 in the eastern part of the country up to more than 150 in the Gilan province, located on the Caspian Plain in the north, which is by far the most densely populated region in the country after Tehran province where the capital is located and where the population density reaches 400 inhabitants/km2. The annual demographic growth rate was estimated at 3.7 percent over the period 1980–1990 and decreased to 0.9 percent over the period 2000–2005.
In 2006, 99 percent of the urban population had access to safe drinking water. In 2000, 84 percent of the rural population had access to safe drinking water. In 2000, 86 and 78 percent of the urban and rural populations respectively had access to improved sanitation.