Tajikistan is nestled between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to the north and west, China to the east, and Afghanistan to the south. Mountains cover 93 percent of Tajikistan's surface area. The two principal ranges, the Pamir Mountains and the Alay Mountains, give rise to many glacier-fed streams and rivers, which have been used to irrigate farmlands since ancient times. Central Asia's other major mountain range, the Tian Shan, skirts northern Tajikistan. Mountainous terrain separates Tajikistan's two population centers, which are in the lowlands of the southern and northern sections of the country. Especially in areas of intensive agricultural and industrial activity, the Soviet Union's natural resource utilization policies left independent Tajikistan with a legacy of environmental problems.
Dimensions and borders
With an area of 143,100 km2 (55,300 sq mi), Tajikistan has a maximum east-to-west extent is 700 km (430 mi), and its maximum north-to-south extent is 350 km (220 mi). The country's highly irregular border is 3,651 km (2,269 mi) long, including 414 km (257 mi) along the Chinese border to the east and 1,206 km (749 mi) along the frontier with Afghanistan to the south. Most of the southern border with Afghanistan is set by the Amu Darya (darya is the Persian word for river) and its tributary the Panj River (Darya-ye Panj), which has headwaters in Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The other neighbors are the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan (to the west and the north) and Kyrgyzstan (to the north).
Topography and drainage
The lower elevations of Tajikistan are divided into northern and southern regions by a complex of three mountain chains that constitute the westernmost extension of the massive Tian Shan system. Running essentially parallel from east to west, the chains are the Turkestan, Zeravshan (Zarafshan), and Hisor (Gissar) mountains. The last of these lies just north of the capital, Dushanbe, which is situated in west-central Tajikistan.
More than half of Tajikistan lies above an elevation of 3,000 meters (9,800 ft). Even the lowlands, which are located in the Fergana Valley in the far north and in Khatlon Province in the southwest, are well above sea level. In the Turkestan range, highest of the western chains, the maximum elevation is 5,510 meters (18,100 ft). The highest elevations of this range are in the east, near the border with Kyrgyzstan. That region is dominated by the peaks of the Pamir-Alay mountain system, including two of the three highest elevations in the former Soviet Union: Mount Lenin — 7,134 meters (23,400 ft) and Mount Communism — 7,495 meters (24,600 ft). Several other peaks in the region also exceed 7,000 meters (23,000 ft). The mountains contain numerous glaciers, the largest of which, Fedchenko Glacier, covers more than 700 square kilometers (270 sq mi) and is the largest glacier in the world outside the polar regions. Because Tajikistan lies in an active seismic belt, severe earthquakes are common.
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