Official name : Burkina Faso
Area: 274,200 square kilometers (105,869 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Tena Kourou (747 meters/2,451 feet)
Lowest point on land: Black Volta River (200 meters/656 feet)
Hemispheres: Northern, Eastern, and Western
Time zone: Noon = noon GMT
Longest distances: 873 kilometers (542 miles) from east-northeast to west-southwest; 474 kilometers (295 miles) from south-southeast to north-northwest
Land boundaries: 3,192 kilometers (1,983 miles) total boundary length; Benin, 306 kilometers (190 miles); Cote d'Ivoire, 584 kilometers (363 miles); Ghana, 548 kilometers (341 miles); Mali, 1,000 kilometers (621 miles); Niger, 628 kilometers (390 miles); Togo, 126 kilometers (78 miles)
Territorial sea limits: None
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Burkina Faso (known as Upper Volta from 1960 until 1984) is a landlocked country (does not have access to the sea) in northwest Africa. It lies west of Niger; northwest of Benin; north of Mali, Togo, Ghana, and Côte d'Ivoire; and east and south of Mali. With an area of 274,200 square kilometers (105,869 square miles), the country is slightly larger than the state of Colorado. Burkina Faso is divided into thirty provinces.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Burkina Faso has no outside territories or dependencies.
High temperatures are typical in Burkina Faso, especially during the dry season. From March to May, the harmattan, a dry east wind, contributes to considerably hot temperatures that range from 40° to 48°C (104° to 119°F). From May to October, the weather is hot, but wet; and from November to March, it is dry and comfortable. January temperatures vary from 7° to13°C (44° to 55°F).
The average annual rainfall varies from 115 centimeters (45 inches) in the southwest to a low of 25 centimeters (10 inches) in the extreme north and northeast portion of the country. The country suffers from recurring droughts.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
Burkina Faso is situated on a single, vast plateau known as the Mossi Highlands. Three valleys are carved around the highlands by the Black, White, and Red Volta Rivers, and their main tributary, the Sourou. The rivers are either flooded or dry, making the terrain of this savannah arid and poor. This wild bush country has a mixture of grasslands and small trees. The northern provinces of Burkina Faso are part of the Sahel region, a long strip of savannah that marks the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. Though most of the country is flat, there is a hill region in the southwest.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Burkina Faso is a landlocked country.
6 INLAND LAKES
Burkina Faso has very few permanent natural lakes. One of them, Lake Tengréla, is located beyond the waterfalls of Karfiguéla near the city of Banfora. Lake Bam is found in the northern stretch of the White Volta River.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
The longest river in Burkina Faso is the Black Volta (1,352 kilometers/840 miles), located in the southwestern bulge of the country. The two other principal rivers, the White Volta and Red Volta, run north to south in the central plateau region. All of the rivers flow southward and meet in Ghana to form the Volta River and Lake Volta. They are alternately dry or flooded and all are unnavigable.
The hill region of the southwest offers many waterfalls, particularly during the rainy season. The Karfiguéla waterfalls are located just outside of Banfora.
Sahel is an Arabic word that means "shore." It refers to the 5,000-kilometer-long (3,125-mile-long) stretch of savannah that forms the edge of the Sahara Desert. The Sahel spreads east to west from Somalia to Mauritania and Senegal and covers most of the northern portion of Burkina Faso. Sparse rainfall means drought is common in this area, so even crops that need very little water often fail. Soil erosion is a great concern for this region, as the dry soil is blown away by the hot harmattans or washed into the rivers during the rains. To catch rainwater and reduce soil erosion on crop areas, farmers build diguettes around their fields. A diguette is a line of stones built up along the borders of a farmland that essentially creates a barrier to keep the rainwater on the crop field.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
The savannah region of Burkina Faso is primarily grassland during the rainy season.
The highest elevation is Tena Kourou at 747 meters (2,451 feet). It is located in a low hilly region near the Mali border, south of Orodara. The hills were formed by the incline of the central plateau.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
There are no significant mountain ranges in Burkina Faso.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
There are no significant caves or canyons in Burkina Faso.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
For the most part, the country consists of a vast plateau in the West African savannah, approximately 198 to 305 meters (650 to 1,000 feet) above sea level. This plateau is slightly inclined toward the south, and it is notched by valleys formed by the three principal rivers, the Black, White and Red Volta Rivers.
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
Much of Burkina Faso relies on a system of dams and reservoirs to supply water for drinking and agriculture. Some of the largest dams include Douna and Moussodougou in the west; Sourou in the northwest; Bam, Loumbila, and Kanazoé in the central region; and Kompienga in the east. A number of smaller dams are used through the country to create temporary flooding for agriculture.
14 FURTHER READING
Baxter, Joan, and Keith Sommerville . Burkina Faso . New York: Pinter Publishers, 1989.
McFarland, Daniel Miles. Historical Dictionary of Upper Volta . Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1978.
Skinner, Elliott P. African Urban Life: The Transformation of Ouagadougou . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974.
Oxfam's Cool Planet - On The Line - Burkina Faso. http://www.oxfam.org.uk/coolplanet/ontheline (accessed June 13, 2003).