Central Asia is a region which stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east, and from Afghanistan and Iran in the south to Russia in the north. The region consists of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. It is also colloquially referred to as “the stans” as the countries generally considered to be within the region all have names ending with the Persian suffix “-stan“, meaning “land of”. Central Asia as of 2019 has a population of about 72 million, consisting of five republics: Kazakhstan (18 million), Kyrgyzstan (6 million), Tajikistan (9 million), Turkmenistan (6 million), and Uzbekistan (33 million).
Because Central Asia is not buffered by a large body of water, temperature fluctuations are often severe, excluding the hot, sunny summer months. In most areas the climate is dry and continental, with hot summers and cool to cold winters, with occasional snowfall. Outside high-elevation areas, the climate is mostly semi-arid to arid. In lower elevations, summers are hot with blazing sunshine. Winters feature occasional rain and/or snow from low-pressure systems that cross the area from the Mediterranean Sea. Average monthly precipitation is extremely low from July to September, rises in autumn (October and November) and is highest in March or April, followed by swift drying in May and June. Winds can be strong, producing dust storms sometimes, especially toward the end of the dry season in September and October.
Central Asia’s economic activity is centred on irrigated agriculture in the south and on heavy and light industry and mining in Kazakhstan. Under Soviet rule the area supplied most of the U.S.S.R.’s cotton and was a major supplier of coal and other minerals for industrial use. Irrigated cotton growing is dominant in the east and southeast, while there is some dry farming of wheat in the far northern provinces of Kazakhstan.