Geography and climate
Belarus is located between the latitudes of 51° and 57° N, and the longitudes of 23° and 33° E. Its length from north to south is 560 km (350 mi), while its length from west to east is 650 km (400 mi). It is landlocked, somewhat flat, and covered with marshy terrain. Forests cover about 40% of Belarus.
Belarus has several streams and 11,000 lakes. The nation is traversed by three main rivers: the Neman, the Pripyat, and the Dnieper. The Neman flows westward to the Baltic Sea, whereas the Pripyat flows eastward to the Dnieper, which flows south to the Black Sea.
The highest point is Dzyarzhynskaya Hara (345 m/1,132 ft), while the lowest point is on the Neman River (90 m) (295 ft). Belarus has an average elevation of 160 meters (525 feet) above sea level. Winters are moderate to chilly, with annual January low temperatures ranging from 4 °C (24.8 °F) in the southwest (Brest) to 8 °C (17.6 °F) in the northeast (Vitebsk), while summers are pleasant and damp, with an average temperature of 18 °C (64.4 °F). Belarus has an annual rainfall range of 550 to 700 mm (21.7 to 27.6 in). The nation is located in a transitional zone between continental and marine climates.
Peat deposits, minor amounts of oil and natural gas, granite, dolomite (limestone), marl, chalk, sand, gravel, and clay are all natural resources. Approximately 70% of the radiation from neighboring Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe in 1986 reached Belarusian territory, and approximately one-fifth of Belarusian land (mostly agriculture and woods in the southeastern areas) was damaged by radioactive fallout. The United Nations and other organizations have worked to lower radiation levels in impacted regions, particularly via the use of caesium binders and rapeseed cultivation, both of which are intended to reduce caesium-137 levels in soil.
Belarus is bounded on five sides by Latvia to the north, Lithuania to the northwest, Poland to the west, Russia to the north and east, and Ukraine to the south. Belarus’ boundaries with Latvia and Lithuania were defined by treaties in 1995 and 1996, respectively, however Belarus failed to ratify a 1997 treaty defining the Belarus-Ukraine boundary. In February 2007, Belarus and Lithuania approved complete boundary delineation papers.
According to the National Statistical Committee, the population was 9.49 million people in January 2016. Belarusians of ethnic origin account for 83.7 percent of the country’s overall population. Russians (8.3 percent), Poles (3.1 percent), and Ukrainians are the next biggest ethnic groupings (1.7 percent ). Belarus has a population density of approximately 50 people per square kilometer (127 people per square mile); urban regions house 70% of the country’s total population. In 2015, the population of Minsk, the country’s capital and biggest city, was 1,937,900 people. Gomel is the second-largest city and the capital of the Homiel Voblast, with a population of 481,000 people. Mogilev (365,100), Vitebsk (342,400), Hrodna (314,800), and Brest are the other major cities (298,300).
Belarus, like many other European nations, has a negative population growth rate as well as a negative natural growth rate. Belarus’ population fell by 0.41 percent in 2007, and its fertility rate was 1.22, considerably below the replacement rate. Belarus has a net migration rate of +0.38 per 1,000 people, suggesting that immigration outnumbers emigration. As of 2006, 69.7 percent of Belarus’s population was between the ages of 14 and 64; 16 percent was under the age of 14, and 14.6 percent was 65 or older. Its population is likewise aging, with the median age of 37 expected to increase to between 55 and 65 by 2050. In Belarus, there are about 0.87 men for every female. The average lifespan is 68.7 years (63.0 years for males and 74.9 years for females). More than 99 percent of Belarusians aged 15 and above are literate.
According to official statistics, as of November 2011, 58.9 percent of all Belarusians practiced some kind of religion, with Eastern Orthodoxy (Belarusian Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church) accounting for about 82 percent of them. Roman Catholicism is mainly prevalent in the western areas, while Protestantism comes in many varieties. Greek Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, and Neopaganism are also practiced by minorities.
Belarus’ Catholic minority, which accounts for about 9% of the nation’s population and is centered in the western portion of the country, particularly near Hrodna, is made up of Belarusians as well as the country’s Polish and Lithuanian minorities. President Lukashenko said in a media release on Belarusian-Vatican ties that Orthodox and Catholic Christians are the “two major confessors in our country.” According to a 2011 Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimate, the overall Roman Catholic population has fallen to 12% of religious adherents.
Belarus was formerly a significant European Jewish center, with 10% of the population being Jewish. However, since the mid-twentieth century, the number of Jews has been decreased by the Holocaust, expulsion, and emigration, such that they now constitute a very tiny minority of fewer than one percent of the population. The Lipka Tatars, who number approximately 15,000 people, are mostly Muslims. Belarus has no official religion, according to Article 16 of the Constitution. While the same provision guarantees religious freedom, religious groups considered detrimental to the government or social order may be banned.
Belarus was one of the world’s most industrially developed nations by percentage of GDP at the time of the Soviet Union’s breakup in 1991, as well as the wealthiest CIS member-state. In 2015, 39.3 percent of Belarusians worked for state-controlled businesses, 57.2 percent worked for private companies (in which the government owns 21.1 percent), and 3.5 percent worked for foreign companies. Russia is the country’s primary source of imports, notably petroleum. Potatoes and cow byproducts, especially meat, are important agricultural goods. Belarus’s major exports in 1994 were heavy equipment (particularly tractors), agricultural goods, and energy products. Belarus is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Eurasian Economic Community, and the Union with Russia.
However, industrial output fell in the 1990s as a result of reductions in imports, investment, and demand for Belarusian goods from its trading partners. GDP just started to increase in 1996, making the nation the fastest-recovering former Soviet republic in terms of economic recovery. GDP in 2006 was estimated to be $83.1 billion in purchasing power parity (PPP) dollars, or about $8,100 per capita. GDP grew by 9.9 percent in 2005, while inflation averaged 9.5 percent.
Belarus’s biggest commercial partner in 2006 was Russia, which accounted for almost half of total trade, with the European Union accounting for roughly a third of total trade. In 2015, 38 percent of Belarusian exports went to Russia, while 56 percent of purchased products came from Russia.
Belarus lost its EU Generalized System of Preferences status on 21 June 2007 due to its inability to safeguard worker rights, including enacting laws prohibiting unemployment or working outside of state-controlled industries, and tariff rates were increased to their previous most favored country levels. Belarus sought to join the World Trade Organization in 1993.
More over four million individuals work in the labor field, with women holding slightly more positions than males. In 2005, industrial enterprises employed almost a quarter of the population. Agriculture, manufacturing sales, trading products, and education all have high employment rates. According to official data, the unemployment rate in 2005 was 1.5 percent. There were 679,000 jobless Belarusians, with women accounting for two-thirds of the total. Since 2003, the unemployment rate has been declining, and the total rate of employment has been at its best since data were first collected in 1995.
Belarus’s currency was the Belarusian ruble until July 1, 2016. (BYR). The currency, which replaced the Soviet ruble, was established in May 1992. On December 27, 1996, the Republic of Belarus released its first coins. The ruble was reinstated in 2000 with new values and has been in use since then. Both Russia and Belarus, as members of the Union of Russia and Belarus, have considered adopting a unified currency similar to the Euro. As a result, it was proposed that the Belarusian ruble be phased out in favor of the Russian ruble (RUB) beginning on January 1, 2008. In August 2007, the National Bank of Belarus abandoned the peg of the Belarusian ruble to the Russian ruble.
In July 2016, a new currency, the new Belarusian ruble (ISO 4217 code: BYN), was launched, replacing the Belarusian ruble at a 1:10,000 exchange rate (10,000 old rubles = 1 new ruble). From July 1 to December 31, 2016, the old and new currencies will be in simultaneous circulation, while series 2000 notes and coins may be exchanged for series 2009 notes and coins from January 1 to December 31, 2021. This redenomination may be seen as an attempt to combat the high inflation rate.
Belarus’ financial system consists of thirty state-owned banks and one privatized bank. On May 23, 2011, the Belarusian ruble fell by 56% versus the US dollar. On the underground market, the devaluation was much worse, and financial catastrophe seemed near as people raced to swap their rubles for dollars, euros, durable goods, and tinned foods. Belarus sought an economic rescue package from the International Monetary Fund on June 1, 2011.