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Southwest and Central Asia

Map of the Middle EastSouthwest Asia is often called the Middle East, a region that covers 18 countries. The Middle East includes the Arabian Peninsula and extends to Iran in the east and Egypt, in Africa, in the west. Middle Eastern nations range from some of the world's wealthiest, such as oil-rich Qatar and United Arab Emirates, to among the poorest, for example, Yemen. Central Asia consists of five republics—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan—which lie sandwiched between the Middle East, Russia and China. Many Central Asian people are farmers and livestock herders, but the region also has significant reserves of minerals, oil and natural gas.



Satellite image of the Middle EastSand dunes in the Rub' al Khali ("the Empty Quarter")

The Middle East

Much of the Middle East is made up of mountains, scrubland or desert, and has a hot, dry climate. Almost all the peninsula bordered by the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea forms the Arabian Desert. Some parts of it, including the completely uninhabited Rub' al Khali ("the Empty Quarter"), consist entirely of sand dunes. The most fertile areas of the Middle East are along the Mediterranean coast and the floodplains of the Rivers Euphrates and Tigris in Iraq. Here, crops such as cereals and citrus fruits can be grown.

Scientists believe that apples originated in Central Asia, in the region of Kazakhstan, where the apple’s wild ancestor, Malus sieversii, still grows today.

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