Heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers for cotton growing further aggravates soil pollution.
The first people known to have inhabited Central Asia were Iranian nomads who came from the northern grasslands of what is now Uzbekistan, sometime in the first millennium BC; when these nomads settled in the region they built an extensive irrigation system along the rivers.
The area was later conquered by a succession of invaders including the Arab Caliphate and Turkic states such as the Göktürk Khaganate, after which it was laid waste by the Mongols.
A majority of Uzbeks are non-denominational Muslims.
The region was conquered in the early 16th century by Eastern Turkic-speaking nomads, and was gradually incorporated into the Russian Empire during the 19th century.
In 1924, the constituent republic of the Soviet Union known as the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (Uzbek SSR) was created.
However, decades of questionable Soviet policies in pursuit of greater cotton production have resulted in a catastrophic scenario with the agricultural industry being the main contributor to the pollution and devastation of both air and water in the country.
Since the 1960s, the decade when the overuse of the Aral Sea water began, it has shrunk to less than 50% of its former area and decreased in volume threefold.