Official name: Republic of Namibia
Area: 825,418 square kilometers (318,696 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Konigstein (2,606 meters/8,550 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Southern and Eastern
Time zone: 2 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 1,498 kilometers (931 miles) from south-southeast to north-northwest; 880 kilometers (547 miles) from east-northeast to west-southwest (excluding the Caprivi Strip)
Land boundaries: 3,824 kilometers (2,376 miles) total boundary length; Angola 1,376 kilometers (855 miles); Botswana 1,360 kilometers (845 miles); South Africa 855 kilometers (531 miles); Zambia 233 kilometers (145 miles)
Coastline: 1,572 kilometers (977 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Namibia is located on the southwest Atlantic coast of Africa, bordering Angola and Zambia to the north, Botswana to the east, and South Africa to the southeast. With a total area of about 825,418 square kilometers (318,696 square miles), the country is slightly more than half the size of Alaska. Namibia is administratively divided into thirteen regions.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Namibia has no outside territories or dependencies.
Along the coast, the average temperature ranges from 23°C (73°F) in summer to 13°C (55°F) in winter. Inland, the temperatures may be somewhat higher, except at the higher elevations, where temperatures are lower.
There is little rainfall in Namibia. The rainy season is from November to March, with most of the rainfall occurring from January to March. Rain typically occurs during widely scattered, brief thunderstorms. Average annual rainfall along the Atlantic Coast is less than 5 centimeters (2 inches). About 35 centimeters (14 inches) of rain fall in the central highlands, while 70 centimeters (28 inches) of rain is the yearly average in the northeast. Because of the erratic rainfall, droughts are frequent; some areas of the country may go years without receiving any rain. The country's highest rainfall occurs in the northeast, where there is woodland savannah featuring dense vegetation covering the plains.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
Namibia is primarily a large desert and semi-desert plateau with an average elevation of 1,080 meters (3,543 feet). There are four distinct topographical regions in Namibia: the coastal Namib Desert, the central plateau, the southeastern Kalahari Desert, and the northeastern woodland savannah. Extending from the northeast corner of the country is the Caprivi Strip, a narrow panhandle extending between Angola and Zambia on the north and Botswana on the south. Namibia lies on the African Tectonic Plate.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Seacoast and Undersea Features
Namibia has a western coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. The cold Benguela ocean current, which flows from Antarctica north along the west coast of Africa, contributes to the overall climate of Namibia and causes the dense fog that almost always hangs over much of the coast, especially in the north.
Sea Inlets and Straits
Sandwich Harbor, the coastal area around Sandwich Bay, is a wetland fed both by salt water flowing with the tides and by fresh water seeping up from aquifers. It attracts a wide variety of wading birds and serves as a breeding ground for marine life.
Islands and Archipelagos
Namibia has only twelve small, rocky islands off of its coast. The islands are uninhabited except for colonies of penguins and the scientists who are researching them.
The 500-kilometer (300-mile) stretch of Atlantic Coast, from roughly the Cunene River on the Angola border to the Ugab River, is known as the Skeleton Coast. Dramatic sand dunes, deep canyons, and mountains line this remote, foggy shore. It marks the extreme western edge of the Namib Desert. The Skeleton Coast got its name from the many shipwrecks that occurred there. A park covering about 16,000 square kilometers (6,200 square miles) is maintained in the area south of Cape Fria.
Just north of the city of Swakopmund is Cape Cross, home to Africa's largest colony of cape fur seals, numbering between one hundred thousand and two hundred thousand. In 1486, the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cao became the first European to visit Namibia; he erected a cross to honor the Portuguese king, and that is how the cape got its name.
Access to the coast south of Lüderitz to the South African border is restricted, since it is an area rich in diamonds.
6 INLAND LAKES
The Etosha Pan in northwestern Namibia is known both as the "Great White Place," because of the appearance of its dry, saline, clay soil, and also as the "Land of Dry Water," because it is a dry lake for much of the year. It has been protected as a nature preserve since 1907. The intermittent Ekuma and Oshigambo Rivers feed the Etosha Pan, periodically creating a large, shallow lake where flamingoes congregate. There are no other major lakes in Namibia.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
The only permanent rivers lie on or near the country's borders. The Cunene River forms the northwestern border with Angola, and the Okavango River forms the northeastern border. The Zambezi River, though one of the longest rivers in Africa with a total length of 2,650 kilometers (1,650 miles), touches Namibia only where it forms the far eastern border of the Caprivi Strip with Zambia. The system of the Kwando, Linyanti, and Chobe Rivers forms the easternmost border between the Caprivi Strip and Botswana. The Orange River forms the southern border with South Africa.
Along the northern border with Angola, the Cunene River courses to the Atlantic Ocean. Two dramatic waterfalls lie on the Cunene. Epupa Falls is actually a series of cascades created by the river dropping almost 60 meters (200 feet) over the short distance of just 1.5 kilometers (1 mile). At full flood stage, the Ruacana Falls swell to 120 meters (400 feet) high and 700 meters (2,300 feet) wide.
During the rainy season (generally from November to March), the intermittent rivers may be filled with water and may even pose flash-flood hazards, while at other times they are dry riverbeds, sometimes dotted with pools filled with fish. Intermittent rivers that flow west to the Atlantic Ocean include the Kuiseb, Swakop, Omaruru, Hoarusib, Hoanib, Ugab, and Khumib. The Nossob, a tributary of the Orange River, flows along the Kalahari Desert into Botswana. Another Orange River tributary, the Fish, flows throughout south-central Namibia. Intermittent rivers that flow north include the Marienfluss, the Omatako, and the Cuvelai, which flows from its source in Angola to the Etosha Pan.
The Namib Desert follows the full length of the Atlantic coastline and varies in width from 50 to 140 kilometers (30 to 88 miles). The terrain features dramatic stretches of dunes, dry riverbeds, and deep canyons, sometimes lined with majestic rock formations. From Swakopmund to Lüderitz, some of the highest sand dunes found anywhere in the world extend inland about 70 kilometers (44 miles). Remains of shipwrecks also dot the beach.
The Kalahari Desert lies in the east-central portion of the country and straddles the border with Botswana. The Kalahari features relatively flat expanses of red sand covered in some areas with sparse vegetation.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
African savannah (grassland) dotted by solitary shrubs and trees are common in vast areas of the country, except for the desert on the western coast.
DID YOU KNOW?
The elephant herds that roam northwest Namibia dwell in the desert. They seem to have adapted to the dry, sandy conditions by having larger feet and smaller bodies than other elephants. There are only two countries in the world where elephants live in desert conditions: Namibia and Mali. Most elephants inhabit savannah (grassland) or forest regions.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
Konigstein, the highest mountain in Namibia, reaches 2,606 meters (8,550 feet). It belongs to a range known as the Brandberg Massif. In 1917, the White Lady rock painting was discovered in a ravine called Maack's Shelter, which is at the base of the Konigstein. West of the Brandberg rise the Gobobose Mountains, which contain an extinct volcano, the Messum Crater. Just south of the Brandberg Massif, in the region northeast of Swakopmund, are the sharp peaks of Groot Spitzkoppe (1,728 meters/5,702 feet) and Klein Spitzkoppe (1,584 meters/5,227 feet). The Kaokoveld Mountains are located about 60 kilometers (40 miles) north of the Brandberg. They run along the Namib Desert parallel to the coast. At their northern extent they run into the Jou-bert Mountains. Twyfelfontein is a west-facing mountain slope located in the Kaokoveld Mountains that is covered with more than two thousand rock engravings (where the designs have been chipped into the rock). Some of the carvings date from about 3,300 B.C.
The Khomas Highlands run east to west from Windhoek toward the sea and include the flat-topped Gamsberg (2,347 meters/7,745 feet). In the north-central region there are two mountain ranges: the Erongo Mountains, which are about 150 kilometers (94 miles) from the Brandberg with maximum elevations of about 2,319 meters (7,653 feet), and the Otavi Mountains, which are even further north. Northeast of Windhoek are the Eros Mountains, which reach a maximum elevation of 1,900 meters (6,270 feet).
In the south, there are two main mountain ranges. The Schwarz Mountains run north to south along the western bank of the Fish River. The highest peak of the Schwarz is Mount Brukkaros at 1,603 meters (5,259 feet). The Great Karas Mountains run southwest to northeast across the southeastern corner of the country, beginning to the east of Fish River Canyon. The highest point in this range is Karas Mountain, which reaches an altitude of 2,202 meters (7,267 feet). The country's second-highest peak, Von Moltkeblick (2,480 meters/8,184 feet), rises among the Auas Mountains in southeastern Namibia.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
Fish River Canyon lies in the dry, stone-covered plain in south-central Namibia. With an estimated length of 160 kilometers (100 miles), a maximum width of 27 kilometers (17 miles), and a depth of 550 meters (1,815 feet), it is the second-largest natural gorge in Africa.
DID YOU KNOW?
Namibia is the first country in the world to include protection of the environment and sustainable utilization of wildlife in its government's constitution. About 15.5 percent of the country's land has been set aside as national parks.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
The central plateau has elevations between 1,000 and 2,000 meters (3,300 and 6,600 feet). The terrain features mountain peaks, rock formations, and broad sweeping plains or savannah. In the northwest, the plateau runs into the Kaokoveld, a remote and desolate area of high elevation, home to many rare species of African animals. Further east toward the center of the country, just south of Grootfontein in an area known as the Kaukauveld, the red sandstone Waterberg Plateau rises about 200 meters (660 feet) above the savannah and extends for more than 50 kilometers (30 miles). It is the centerpiece of a large area that was designated as parkland in 1972 to protect the habitat of rare and endangered species. The southwestern corner of the country sits on the Huib-Hoch Plateau.
North of the Ugab River are two interesting geological features: Burnt Mountain, a hill displaying outcroppings of purple, black, and gray rock; and a dramatic mass of perpendicular volcanic rock called the Organ Pipes.
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
There are at least ten dams built along Namibia's rivers for the sole purpose of containing river and rainwater for drinking and irrigation. These include the Von Boch and Swakopport Dams on the Swakop River, the Hardop Dam on the Fish River, and the Frienenau Dam on the Kuiseb River. Unfortunately, these catchment areas do not always provide an adequate amount of water for the surrounding areas, since the rivers are occasionally dry and much of the rainfall waters can evaporate soon after a rain. Boreholes (a type of well) have been dug in many areas to access underground water sources. Water is then distributed to villages and settlements by pumps. Nearly 73 percent of the country's water supply comes from these boreholes. This water is not always filtered or completely suitable for drinking, however, and lack of rainfall can make even these sources run dry. During drought seasons, village water supplies may be damaged or destroyed by elephants and other animals in search of fresh water.
DID YOU KNOW?
Namibia is one of the world's leading producers of gem-quality diamonds. The most significant diamond mine areas are in the southwest and belong jointly to the De Beers Consolidated Diamond Mines and the Namibian government. Under the name Namdeb, they mine about half of the world's diamonds. In the Oranjemund Mine, located on the southern coast of the country, diamond deposits are found under the beachfront soils and under the coastal sea floor.
14 FURTHER READING
Allen, Benedict. The Skeleton Coast: A Journey through the Namib Desert. London: BBC Books, 1997.
Ballard, Sebastian. Namibia Handbook. Lincolnwood, IL: Passport Books, 1999.
Bannister, Anthony. Namibia: Africa's Harsh Paradise. London: New Holland, 1990.
Grotpeter, John J. Historical Dictionary of Namibia. Meutchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1994.
Lauré, J. Namibia . Chicago: Children's Press, 1993.
Cardboard Box Travel Shop: Namibian Geography. http://www.namibian.org/travel/namibia/geography.htm (accessed April 11, 2003).
E-Tourism: Namibia . http://www.e-tourism.com.na (accessed April 11, 2003).