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Geography, climate and population
Nepal is located entirely in the Ganges basin and is bordered by India in the east, south and west and by China in the north. With fifteen peaks higher than 7 000 m, including the world’s highest peak Mount Everest at 8 848 m, Nepal is one of the highest countries in the world. The total land area is 147 180 km2. Physiographically, the country can be divided into three parts: the high Himalayas in the north (24 percent of the country’s total area); the hill and mountain slopes in the centre (56 percent), which include the lower hills called siwalik where elevations vary between 300 and 700 m; and the plain called terai in the south at elevations below 300 m (20 percent). For administrative purposes, the country is divided into five development regions and 75 districts.
The cultivable area is about 4 million ha, of which 34 percent in the terai, 8 percent in the siwalik, 48 percent in the mountain and hill region and 10 percent in the high Himalayas. In 2009, the total cultivated area was around 2 520 000 ha, of which 95 percent (2 400 000 ha) were for annual crops and 5 percent (120 000 ha) for permanent crops (Table 1).
Extremely varied topography within a small width ranging from 145 to 241 km influences the weather and climate. The country experiences tropical, meso-thermal, micro-thermal, taiga and tundra types of climate. The mean annual rainfall is 1 500 mm, with a maximum annual rainfall record of 5 581 mm in 1990 at Lumle in Kaski district (elevation 1 740 m) in the mountain region; and a minimum record of 116 mm in 1988 at Jomsom in Mustang district located at 2 744 m in the Kaligandi river valley near the Annapurna Himalayan range.
There are two rainy seasons: one in the summer (June to September), when the southwest monsoon brings more than 75 percent of the total rainfall, and the other in winter (December to February), accounting for less than 25 percent of the total. With the summer monsoon, rain first falls in the southeast and gradually moves west with diminishing intensity. Thus, more rain naturally occurs in the east. On the other hand, during winter, rain occurs as a result of westerly disturbances. This rain first enters Nepal in the west and gradually moves east with diminishing intensity.
The temperature decreases from the lowland terai (northern part of the Ganges plain) to the high Himalayan region. The extreme temperatures recorded show that in Lomangtang (Mustang district) located at an elevation of 3 705 m the minimum temperature was -14.6 °C in 1987, while in Dhangadhi (Kailali district) located at an elevation of 170 m the maximum temperature was 44 °C in 1987. Precipitation falls as snow at elevations above 5 100 m in summer and 3 000 m in winter. Temperature is a constraint on crop production in the Himalayas and the mountain region where only a single crop per year can be grown. On the other hand, in the terai three crops a year are common where the water supply is adequate. Single rice cropping is possible up to elevations of 2 300 m while double rice cropping is limited to areas below 800 m.
In 2009, the total population was 29.4 million, of which almost 83 percent were rural (Table 1). In 1998, the total population was about 23.3 million (82 percent rural), meaning an average annual demographic growth rate of 2.1 percent for the period 1999-2009. In 2009, population density was 200 inhabitants/km2. In 1991, highest population density was in the capital district Kathmandu, 1 710 inhabitants/km2, and in Bhaktapur district near the capital, 1 454 inhabitants/km2. Lowest density was in Manang district (a Himalayan valley) with 2.4 inhabitants/km2. In 1991, 8 percent of the total population was living in the mountain region, 45 percent in the hill region and 47 percent in the terai region.
In 2008, access to improved drinking water sources reached 88 percent (93 and 87 percent for the urban and rural population respectively).