Country Profile: Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan, officially the Republic of Uzbekistan is a landlocked country in Central Asia, formerly part of the Soviet Union. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south. Once part of the Persian Samanid and later Timurid empires, the region was conquered in the early 16th century by Uzbek nomads, who spoke an Eastern Turkic language. Most of Uzbekistan’s population today belong to the Uzbek ethnic group and speak the Uzbek language, one of the family of Turkic languages. Uzbekistan was incorporated into the Russian Empire in the 19th century and in 1924 became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, known as the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (Uzbek SSR). It has been an independent republic since December 1991.
The Uzbek language is the only official state language, however the Tajik language is widespread in the cities of Bukhara and Samarqand because of their relatively large population of ethnic Tajiks. Russian is still an important language for interethnic communication, especially in the cities, including much day-to-day technical, scientific, governmental and business use. Russian is the main language of over 14% of the population and is spoken as a second language by many more. In 1992 Uzbekistan officially shifted back to Latin script from traditional considerations of consistency with Turkey, but many signs and notices (including official government boards in the streets) are still written in Uzbek Cyrillic script that had been used in Uzbek SSR since 1940. Computers as a rule operate using the "Uzbek Cyrillic" keyboard, and Latin script is reportedly composed using the standard English keyboard.
Along with many Commonwealth of Independent States economies, Uzbekistan's economy declined during the first years of transition and then recovered after 1995, as the cumulative effect of policy reforms began to be felt. It has shown robust growth, rising by 4% per year between 1998 and 2003 and accelerating thereafter to 7%-8% per year. According to IMF estimates, the GDP in 2008 will be almost double its value in 1995. Economic production is concentrated in commodities: Uzbekistan is now the world's sixth-largest producer and second-largest exporter of cotton, as well as the seventh largest world producer of gold. It is also a regionally significant producer of natural gas, coal, copper, oil, silver and uranium. Agriculture employs 28% of Uzbekistan's labor force and contributes 24% of its GDP.
Tashkent, the nation's capital and largest city, has a three-line rapid transit system built in 1977, and expanded in 2001 after ten years' independence from the Soviet Union. Uzbekistan is currently the only country in Central Asia with a subway system, which is promoted as one of the cleanest systems in the former Soviet Union. The stations are exceedingly ornate. For example, the station Metro Kosmonavtov built in 1984 is decorated using a space travel theme to recognise the achievements of mankind in space exploration and to commemorate the role of Vladimir Dzhanibekov, the Soviet cosmonaut of Uzbek origin. A statue of Vladimir Dzhanibekov stands near one of the station's entrances.
Uzbekistan's environmental situation ought to be a major concern among the international community. Decades of questionable Soviet policies in pursuit of greater cotton production have resulted in a catastrophic scenario. The agricultural industry appears to be the main contributor to the pollution and devastation of the air and water in the country. The Aral Sea disaster is a classic example. The Aral Sea used to be the fourth-largest inland sea on Earth, acting as an influencing factor in the air moisture. Since the 1960s, the decade when the misuse of the Aral Sea water began, it has shrunk to less than 50% of its former area and decreased in volume threefold. Due to the virtually insoluble Aral Sea problem, high salinity and contamination of the soil with heavy elements are especially widespread in Karakalpakstan – the region of Uzbekistan adjacent to the Aral Sea. The bulk of the nation's water resources is used for farming, which accounts for nearly 94% of the water usage and contributes to high soil salinity. Heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers for cotton growing further aggravates soil pollution. These climate change related problems have pushed Uzbekistan to put tremendous funds into research for global warming and climate change, in order to properly preserve their wealth of natural resources and agricultural strength.
Uzbekistan will continue to grow as one of the fastestt expanding economies and continue to be an example nation for the rest of the former Soviet block. As a nation they will continue to be a leader in exports such as gold, cotton and other valuable resources, as well as taking initiative against global warming and climate change.
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