Geography of Kyrgyzstan

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Geography of Kyrgyzstan is located in Kyrgyzstan
Map of Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked nation in Central Asia, west of the People's Republic of China. Less than a seventh the size of Mongolia, at 199,951 square kilometers,[1] Kyrgyzstan is one of the smaller Central Asian states. The national territory extends about 900 km (560 mi) from east to west and 410 km (250 mi) from north to south.

Kyrgyzstan is bordered on the east and southeast by China, on the north by Kazakhstan, on the west by Uzbekistan and on the south by Tajikistan. The borders with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the Fergana Valley are rather difficult. One consequence of the Stalinist division of Central Asia into five republics is that many ethnic Kyrgyz people do not live in Kyrgyzstan. Three enclaves, legally part of the territory of Kyrgyzstan but geographically removed by several kilometers, have been established, two in Uzbekistan and one in Tajikistan.

The terrain of Kyrgyzstan is dominated by the Tian Shan and Pamir mountain systems, which together occupy about 65% of the national territory. The Alay range portion of the Tian Shan system dominates the southwestern crescent of the country, and, to the east, the main Tian Shan range runs along the boundary between southern Kyrgyzstan and China before extending farther east into China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Kyrgyzstan's average elevation is 2,750 m (9,020 ft), ranging from 7,439 m (24,406 ft) at Peak Jengish Chokusu to 394 m (1,293 ft) in the Fergana Valley near Osh. Almost 90% of the country lies more than 1,500 m (4,900 ft) above sea level.[2]

Topography and drainage[edit]

Detailed map of Kyrgyzstan
This MODIS true-color image shows portions of Kazakhstan (top) and Kyrgyzstan at the bottom. The lake at the top of the image is Lake Balkash.

The mountains of Kyrgyzstan are geologically young, so that the physical terrain is marked by sharply uplifted peaks separated by deep valleys. There is also considerable glaciation with the largest glacier being the Engilchek Glacier.[2] Kyrgyzstan's 6,500 distinct glaciers are estimated to hold about 650 cubic kilometres (160 cu mi) of water and cover 8,048 square kilometers (5,000 square miles) or 4.2% of Kyrgyzstan.[2] Only around the Chuy, Talas, and Fergana valleys is there relatively flat land suitable for large-scale agriculture.

Because the high peaks function as moisture catchers, Kyrgyzstan is relatively well watered by the streams that descend from them. None of the rivers of Kyrgyzstan are navigable, however. The majority are small, rapid, runoff streams. Most of Kyrgyzstan's rivers are tributaries of the Syrdarya, which has its headwaters in the western Tian Shan along the Chinese border. Another large runoff system forms the Chui River, which arises in northern Kyrgyzstan, then flows northwest and disappears into the deserts of southern Kazakhstan. Ysyk-Köl is the second largest body of water in Central Asia, after the Aral Sea, but the saline lake has been shrinking steadily, and its mineral content has been rising gradually. Kyrgyzstan has a total of about 2,000 lakes with a total surface area of 7,000 square kilometres (2,700 sq mi), mostly located at altitudes of 3,000 to 4,000 meters. Only the largest three, however, occupy more than 100 square kilometres (39 sq mi) each. The second- and third-largest lakes, Songköl and Chatyr-Köl (the latter of which also is saline), are located in the Naryn River Basin.

Natural disasters have been frequent and varied. Overgrazing and deforestation of steep mountain slopes have increased the occurrence of mudslides and avalanches, which occasionally have swallowed entire villages. In August 1992, a severe earthquake left several thousand people homeless in the southwestern city of Jalal-Abad.


Kyrgyzstan map of Köppen climate classification.

The country's climate is influenced chiefly by the mountains, Kyrgyzstan's position near the middle of the Eurasian landmass, and the absence of any body of water large enough to influence weather patterns. Those factors create a distinctly continental climate that has significant local variations. Although the mountains tend to collect clouds and block sunlight (reducing some narrow valleys at certain times of year to no more than three or four hours of sunlight per day), the country is generally sunny, receiving as much as 2,900 hours of sunlight per year in some areas. The same conditions also affect temperatures, which can vary significantly from place to place. In January the warmest average temperature (−4 °C or 25 °F) occurs around the southern city of Osh, and around Ysyk-Köl. The latter, which has a volume of 1,738 cubic kilometers (417 cu mi), does not freeze in winter. Indeed, its name means "hot lake" in Kyrgyz. The coldest temperatures are in mountain valleys. There, readings can fall to −30 °C (−22 °F) or lower; the record is −53.6 °C (−64.5 °F). The average temperature for July similarly varies from 27 °C (80.6 °F) in the Fergana Valley, where the record high is 44 °C (111 °F), to a low of −10 °C (14 °F) on the highest mountain peaks. Precipitation varies from 2,000 millimeters (78.7 in) per year in the mountains above the Fergana Valley to less than 100 millimeters (3.9 in) per year on the west bank of Ysyk-Köl.

Environmental issues[edit]

Kyrgyzstan has been spared many of the enormous environmental problems faced by its Central Asian neighbors, primarily because its designated roles in the Soviet system involved neither heavy industry nor large-scale cotton production. Also, the economic downturn of the early 1990s reduced some of the more serious effects of industrial and agricultural policy. Nevertheless, Kyrgyzstan has serious problems because of inefficient use and pollution of water resources, land degradation, and improper agricultural practices. The country is prone to earthquakes, and major flooding occurs during the snow melt.

Water resources[edit]

Alamedin River does not carry a lot of water in September

Although Kyrgyzstan has abundant water running through it, its water supply is determined by a post-Soviet sharing agreement among the five Central Asian republics. As in the Soviet era, Kyrgyzstan has the right to 25% of the water that originates in its territory, but the new agreement allows Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan unlimited use of the water that flows into them from Kyrgyzstan, with no compensation for the nation at the source. Kyrgyzstan uses the entire amount to which the agreement entitles it, but utilization is skewed heavily in favor of agricultural irrigation. During the Soviet era, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan shared their abundant water resources with Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan during summer, and these three nations shared oil and gas with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in winter. According to the International Crisis Group, the skewed system that is currently in place could cause irreversible regional destabilization, and needs to be dealt with by international actors to avoid a crisis in Central Asia.[3] In 1994 agriculture accounted for about 88% of total water consumption, compared with 8% by industry and 4% by municipal water distribution systems. According to World Bank experts, Kyrgyzstan has an adequate supply of high-quality water for future use, provided the resource is prudently managed.

Irrigation is extremely wasteful of water because the distribution infrastructure is old and poorly maintained. In 1993 only an estimated 5% of required maintenance expenditures was allocated. Overall, an estimated 70% of the nation's water supply network is in need of repair or replacement. The quality of drinking water from this aging system is poorly monitored—the water management staff has been cut drastically because of inadequate funds. Further, there is no money to buy new water disinfection equipment when it is needed. Some aquifers near industrial and mining centers have been contaminated by heavy metals, oils, and sanitary wastes. In addition, many localities rely on surface sources, making users vulnerable to agricultural runoff and livestock waste, which seep gradually downward from the surface. The areas of lowest water quality are the heavily populated regions of the Chui Valley and Osh and Jalal-Abad Regions, and areas along the rivers flowing into Ysyk-Köl.

In towns, wastewater collection provides about 70% of the water supply. Although towns have biological treatment equipment, as much as 50% of such equipment is rated as ineffective. The major sources of toxic waste in the water supply are the mercury mining combine at Haidarkan; the antimony mine at Kadamzai; the Kadzyi Sai uranium mine, which ceased extraction in 1967 but which continues to leach toxic materials into nearby Ysyk Köl; the Kara-Balta Uranium Recovery Plant; the Min Kush deposit of mine tailings; and the Kyrgyz Mining and Metallurgy Plant at Orlovka.

Land management[edit]

Low-cost water management in Tamchy, Issyk Kul Region

The most important problems in land use are soil erosion and salinization in improperly irrigated farmland. An estimated 60% of Kyrgyzstan's land is affected by topsoil loss, and 6% by salinization, both problems with more serious long-term than short-term effects. In 1994 the size of livestock herds averaged twice the carrying capacity of pasturage land, continuing the serious overgrazing problem and consequent soil erosion that began when the herds were at their peak in the late 1980s. Uncertain land tenure and overall financial insecurity have caused many private farmers to concentrate their capital in the traditional form—livestock—thus subjecting new land to the overgrazing problem.

The inherent land shortage in Kyrgyzstan is exacerbated by the flooding of agricultural areas for hydroelectric projects. The creation of Toktogul Reservoir on the Naryn River, for example, involved the flooding of 130 km² of fertile land. Such projects have the additional effect of constricting downstream water supply; Toktogul deprives the lower reaches of the Syr Darya in Uzbekistan and the Aral Sea Basin of substantial amounts of water. Because the Naryn Basin, where many hydroelectric projects are located, is very active seismically, flooding is also a danger should a dam be broken by an earthquake.

Environment - current issues: Nuclear waste left behind by the Soviet Union in many open-air pits in hazardous locations. Water pollution; many people get their water directly from contaminated streams and wells; as a result, water-borne diseases are prevalent; increasing soil salinity from faulty irrigation practices. Illegal hunting of very rare species such as the snow leopard and the Marco Polo sheep.

Environment - international agreements:
party to: Air Pollution, Biodiversity, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Ozone Layer Protection, Wetlands

Aral Sea[edit]

In response to the internationally recognized environmental crisis of the rapid desiccation of the Aral Sea, the five states sharing the Aral Sea Basin (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) are developing a strategy to end the crisis. The World Bank and agencies of the United Nations (UN) have developed an Aral Sea Program, the first stage of which is funded by the five countries and external donors. That stage has seven areas of focus, one of which—land and water management in the upper watersheds—is of primary concern to Kyrgyzstan. Among the conditions detrimental to the Aral Sea's environment are erosion from deforestation and overgrazing, contamination from poorly managed irrigation systems, and uncontrolled waste from mining and municipal effluents. Kyrgyzstan's National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP) has addressed these problems as part of its first-phase priorities in cooperation with the Aral Sea Program.

Environmental policy making[edit]

Pallas cat, the famous wild cat of Kyrgyzstan, celebrated on a postage stamp

The NEAP, adopted in 1994, is the basic blueprint for environmental protection. The plan focuses on solving a small number of critical problems, collecting reliable information to aid in that process, and integrating environmental measures with economic and social development strategy. The initial planning period is to end in 1997. The main targets of that phase are inefficient water resource management, land degradation, overexploitation of forest reserves, loss of biodiversity, and pollution from inefficient mining and refining practices.

Because of severe budget constraints, most of the funds for NEAP operations come from international sources, including official institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank and numerous international nongovernmental organizations. Implementation is guided by a committee of state ministers and by a NEAP Expert Working Group, both established in 1994 by executive order. A NEAP office in Bishkek was set up with funds from Switzerland.

The main environmental protection agency of the Kyrgyzstan government is the State Committee on Environmental Protection, still known by its Soviet-era acronym, Goskompriroda. Established by the old regime in 1988, the agency's post-Soviet responsibilities have been described in a series of decrees beginning in 1991. In 1994 the state committee had a central office in Bishkek, one branch in each of the seven regions, and a total staff of about 150 persons. Because of poorly defined lines of responsibility, administrative conflicts often occur between local and national authorities of Goskompriroda and between Goskompriroda and a second national agency, the Hydrometeorological Administration (Gidromet), which is the main monitoring agency for air, water, and soil quality. In general, the vertical hierarchy structure, a relic of Soviet times, has led to poor coordination and duplication of effort among environmental protection agencies.

Specially protected areas[edit]

A number of protected nature areas have been designated by the government of the republic. As of the end of 2004, they included:[4]

Area and boundaries[edit]

Tamchy Bay on Lake Issyk Kul

total: 198,951 km²
land: 191,801 km²
water: 8,150 km²

Land boundaries:
total: 5,473 km
border countries: the People's Republic of China 1,063 km, Kazakhstan 1,212 km, Tajikistan 984 km, Uzbekistan 1,314 km

Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)

Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Kara-Darya 132 m
highest point: Peak Jengish Chokusu 7,439 m

Resources and land use[edit]

Wetlands along the shore of Lake Issyk Kul near Tamchy

Terrain: peaks of Tien Shan and associated valleys and basins encompass entire nation

Natural resources: abundant hydropower; significant deposits of gold and rare earth metals; locally exploitable coal, petroleum, and natural gas; other deposits of nepheline, mercury, bismuth, lead, and zinc.

Land use:
arable land: 6.7%
permanent crops: 0.4%
permanent pasture: 48.3%
forest: 5.1%
other: 93.24% (2011)
note: Kyrgyzstan has the world's largest natural growth walnut forest, Arslanbob, located in Jalal-Abad Region with an enormous variety of different genetic characteristics. It is believed that most of the world's walnut varieties derive from the original species still found here.

Irrigated land: 10,210 km² (2005)

Total renewable water resources: 23.62 km3 (2011)

Climate Change[edit]

Among the countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan is the third most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as changes in weather patterns that could lead to prolonged periods of precipitation and drought.[6] Their average temperature has increased from 5.8 °C to 6 °C so far within the last 20 years.[7] By 2060, there is an expectation of a 0.2 °C increase in average mean temperature, as well as a 1–2 °C increase by 2100.[8] Climate change will negatively affect climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, energy, and forestry.

Climate change contributions[edit]

Greenhouse gases[edit]

About a third of the total greenhouse gas emissions in Kyrgyzstan is due to their main reliance on road systems for transportation.[8] In 2010, according to data from the World Bank, there were 6,398.9 kilotons of emissions released from Kyrgyzstan.[8] This made up 0.02 percent of the world's emissions at the time.[8] In 2012, Kyrgyzstan emitted 0.03 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions.[9]

The US Energy Information Administration released a data chart ranking countries based on carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption. In 1992, Kyrgyzstan ranked 82.[10] The most recent data chart, released for 2010, places Kyrgyzstan at rank 129.[10] By 2030, Kyrgyzstan plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their usual emission levels by between 11.49 percent and 13.75 percent, or by between 29 percent and 31 percent if international support is involved.[9] By 2050, Kyrgyzstan plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their usual emission levels by between 12.67 percent and 15.69 percent, or by between 35 percent and 46.75 percent if international support is involved.[9]

Climate change impacts[edit]


Making up over 40 percent of the country's labor force, the agricultural sector is one of the largest economic sectors for Kyrgyzstan.[11] The majority of the vegetable production is seasonal.[11] Weather patterns are expected to change during seasonal periods.[8] The summer months are expected to show a significant reduction in precipitation, whereas the winter months are expected to have the largest increase in precipitation.[8] Changes to these precipitation patterns will affect what crops will be suitable for production during those periods.[8] Grazing lands and pastures for livestock production will be affected as the availability of precipitation will determine growth and the ability to regenerate.[8]

Energy sector[edit]

Glaciers and snow melt are important for filling up rivers that Kyrgyzstan relies on.[12] Hydro power is the country's main source of energy, making up about 90 percent of electricity generation.[8] Climate change will cause further complications as hydroelectric generation will not be able to meet peak demand during the winter season.[8] Hydro power output is expected to decrease as climate change projections suggest that water flow will be reduced from the year 2030 and onward, which will eventually cause energy supply problems.[8] In regards to energy infrastructure, higher temperatures and extreme weather events may cause significant damages.[8]


Shifts in ecological zones may cause higher states of plant vulnerability and the inability for certain plant species to adapt to new climate conditions, thus creating the possibility of losing forest resources, such as firewood, fruits, and medicinal herbs.[8] The walnut forest in Arslanbob allows Kyrgyzstan to be one of the world's largest walnut exporters, but farmers predict that walnut yields may fall up to 70 percent in 2018 due to climate change and soil erosion.[13]

Natural disasters[edit]

As Kyrgyzstan is situated in a mountainous region, the country is vulnerable to climate-related risks, such as floods, landslides, avalanches, snowstorms, etc.[8] Climate change is expected to worsen the disasters in action and in damages.[8] There has been an increased amount of floods and mudslides as, compared to the volume of glaciers in 1960, the volume has reduced by 18 percent in 2000.[14] In 2012, from 23 April to the 29th, destructive flash floods affected more than 9,400 people in the Osh, Jalalabad, and Batken regions.[15]

Climate action strategies and plans[edit]

Glacier monitoring[edit]

Kyrgyzstan's geography includes 80 percent of the country being found within the Tian Shan mountain chain, and 4 percent of that is area that is permanently under ice and snow.[8] More than 8,500 glaciers are in proximal distance to Kyrgyzstan and research has shown that glacier mass has reduced sharply within the past 50 years.[8]

An indicator of atmospheric warming is the amount of glacier mass lost.[16] Glacier monitoring was performed on the majority of the glaciers of the Tian Shan mountain chain by the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), however operations have largely ceased to exist after its collapse in the early 1990s.[17] As of recently, there has been a re-establishment of glacier monitoring sites in Kyrgyzstan with the Abramov glacier, Golubin glacier, Batysh Sook glacier, and Glacier No. 345.[16] Observations and research over the last five decades show that, overall, the Central Asian glaciers portray more mass loss than mass gain.[16] From 2000 to 2100, glacial areas are expected to be reduced between 64 and 95 percent.[18]

Hydro power rehabilitation projects[edit]

In 2013 and 2014, the energy sector received the largest amount of climate-related development finance.[18] Rehabilitation projects include: the At Bashy Hydro Power Plant supported by Switzerland and the Toktogul Hydro Power Plant (Phase 2) supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Eurasian Development Bank.[18]

Emergency disaster risk management[edit]

There are five priorities in addressing emergency issues, such as natural disasters, within the adaption program of the Ministry of Emergency Situation:

  1. Weather forecast and monitoring
  2. Early warning technologies
  3. Land zoning and construction norms
  4. Weather-risk insurance
  5. Infrastructure development, such as with dam safety.[18]

Supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), is the "International Main Roads Improvement Project," which seeks to apply disaster risk reduction measures, such as tunnel construction, and precautions against falling rocks and landslides.[18]


  1. ^ "The World Factbook: Kyrgyzstan" United States Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 12 January 2010
  2. ^ a b c Kyrgyzstan Travel Map. Bishkek: Rarity Firm, LTD.
  3. ^ International Crisis Group. "Water Pressures in Central Asia", 11 September 2014. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  4. ^ Особо охраняемые природные территории Кыргызской Республики (по состоянию на конец 2004 года) (Protected areas of the Kyrgyz Republic (as of the end of 2004)) (in Russian)
  5. ^ Biosphere Reserves in Kyrgyztan (sic)
  6. ^ President; Parliament; Government; Politics; Economy; Society; Analytics; Regions; Culture. "Kyrgyzstan ranks third most vulnerable to climate change impacts in Central Asia". Информационное Агентство Кабар. Retrieved 14 December 2018.
  7. ^ "Kyrgyzstan is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change in Central Asia". Retrieved 14 December 2018.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Kyrgyz Republic: Overview of Climate Change Activities" (PDF). October 2013 – via World Bank Group. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ a b c "Financing Climate Action in Kyrgyzstan" (PDF). November 2016 – via Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ a b Rogers, Simon (21 June 2012). "World carbon emissions: the league table of every country". the Guardian. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  11. ^ a b "Kyrgyz Republic – Agricultural Sector |". Retrieved 16 December 2018.
  12. ^ "Kyrgyzstan" (PDF). 2012. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
  13. ^ "Kyrgyzstan's ancient walnut forest living through uncertain times | Eurasianet". Retrieved 17 December 2018.
  14. ^ "Financing Climate Action in Kyrgyzstan" (PDF). November 2016 – via Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  15. ^ "Kyrgyzstan: Floods and Mudflows – Apr 2012". ReliefWeb. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
  16. ^ a b c Hoelzle, Martin (2017). "Re-establishing glacier monitoring in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Central Asia" (PDF). Geoscientific Instrumentation. 6 (2): 397. Bibcode:2017GI......6..397H. doi:10.5194/gi-6-397-2017. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
  17. ^ Liu, Qiao; Liu, Shiyin (2016). "Response of glacier mass balance to climate change in the Tianshan Mountains during the second half of the twentieth century". Climate Dynamics. 46 (1–2): 303–316. Bibcode:2016ClDy...46..303L. doi:10.1007/s00382-015-2585-2 – via Springer Link.
  18. ^ a b c d e "Financing Climate Action in Kyrgyzstan" (PDF). November 2016 – via Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)