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Geography, climate and population
Turkmenistan is bordered in the west by the Caspian Sea, in the northwest by Kazakhstan, in the north and northeast by Uzbekistan, in the southeast by Afghanistan and in the south and southwest by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Total area is 488 100 km2 (Table 1). The country formally declared independence from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in October 1991. For administrative purposes, the country is divided into five provinces (velayat) and one independent city, Ashgabat, which is the capital.
The Kara Kum desert covers 80 percent of the country. In the southwest, along the border with the Islamic Republic of Iran, lies the Kopetdag mountain chain where the Shakhshakh peak rises to 2 912 m above sea level. The highest point is the Airybaba peak, which is 3 137 m, in the Kougitantau mountain range in the east, on the border with Uzbekistan. About 12 percent of the country is covered by water and non-soil formations (talus, rocks, precipices) (AST and MOA, 1961).
The cultivable area is an estimated 7 million ha, or 14 percent of the total area. In 2009, total cultivated area was an estimated 1 910 000 ha, of which 1 850 000 ha was comprised of temporary crops, and 60 000 ha permanent, mostly vineyards, pistachio nuts, figs and olives. In 1994, the cultivated area 1 755 200 ha, was divided into kolkhoz (collective farms) and sovkhoz (state farms), which together covered 1 596 400 ha (91 percent of total cultivated area); the ‘citizens’ land’, corresponds to gardens and individual plots, on 109 900 ha (6 percent); and private farms, owned by 4 500 households, on 48 900 ha (3 percent). In May 1994, the government approved land reform, which should eventually result in the privatization of agricultural land. The sovkhoz and kolkhoz land are to be distributed to employees under a lease contract of 99 years. At the end of 1994, about 720 000 ha of this land (or 41 percent of total cultivated land) had been distributed to 260 000 farmers.
The climate in Turkmenistan is distinctly continental and arid, because of the nature of the underlying surface, and the presence of mountain ranges in the southeast and south. Average annual precipitation is about 191 mm, ranging from less that 80 mm in the northeast to 300 mm in the Kopetdag mountains in the southwest. Precipitation occurs during winter, between October and April. Sometimes there may be no precipitation during summer. Agriculture, therefore, depends entirely on irrigation.
Average annual temperature varies from 11-13 °C in the north to 15–18 °C in the southeast. Winters are mild, with little snow and moderate frost. The average temperature in January, the coldest month, is about minus 4 °C throughout most of the country, except in the southwest where the climate is milder with an average temperature of 4 °C in the coldest month. The summer is very hot and dry. In July, average temperatures exceed 30 °C throughout the country. Average annual evaporation from water surface varies from 2 000 to 2 300 mm (Berdiyev, 2006).
The total population was an estimated 5.1 million inhabitants in 2011, of which 50 percent rural, while in 2001 54 percent was rural. During the period 2001–2011, annual population growth rate was an estimated 1.1 percent. The population density is about 10 inhabitants/km2.
In 2006, 84 percent of the population had access to improved water sources (97 and 72 percent in urban and rural areas respectively). Sanitation coverage accounted for 98 percent (99 and 97 percent in urban and rural areas respectively) (Table 1).