This town sits in the corner of the most fertile piece of land between Iran and China. The overpopulated, Israel-sized Ferghana Valley has attracted the armies of Alexander the Great, Arabs, Mongols and Russian tsars. It has also spawned some of the bloodiest conflicts in the former Soviet Union, including ethnic clashes, incursions of armed Islamists and the Uzbek government’s merciless crackdown on a 2005 popular revolt.

The glaciers and snows of the Tian Shan mountains around the valley give birth to the Syr Darya, one of Central Asia’s two major rivers, and turn the valley into a giant hothouse with nearly perfect conditions for farming. Border areas in nearby Xinjiang, China’s troubled Muslim region, also depend on Tian Shan’s glaciers for water.

But between 1961 and 2012, the sky-scraping range whose name means “Heavenly Mountains” in Chinese, has lost 27 percent of its ice mass, the German Research Centre for Geosciences said last year. The annual loss amounts to up to 5.4 cubic kilometres of water a year, it said. READ MORE