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Map of Asia Asia is the largest continent. The northern part is taken up entirely by Siberia, part of Russia, where icy tundra and coniferous forests dominate the landscape. Farther south are the barren grasslands, or steppes, of Central Asia. These merge into vast areas of rocky desert that are bitterly cold in winter. Much of southwest Asia, known as the Middle East, is also covered by desert, but this is hot, dry and often sandy. South of the Himalayas, the countries of South Asia have a monsoon climate; long periods of hot, dry weather are followed by heavy rains. In Southeast Asia, a peninsula reaches out towards the many islands of Indonesia, still mostly covered by dense tropical rainforest.

Wealth and poverty

The Pudong business district in Shanghai, ChinaIn the west, south and east of Asia, a number of countries have become wealthy from their rich reserves of oil or their successful manufacturing and technological industries. Measured by life expectancy, education and household income, East Asia, which includes China, Japan and South Korea, has recorded by far the greatest improvement of any region in the world in recent years. But in a number of other Asian countries—Afghanistan for example—poverty is rife. In these countries, where most people farm for a living, the population is vulnerable to floods and droughts.

With an average ground level of 1.5 m (59 in) above sea level, the world’s lowest country is the Maldives, in the Indian Ocean. Global warming, which is causing rising sea levels, may make the islands uninhabitable within the next 100 years.

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