Official name : Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Area: 1,127,127 square kilometers (435,186 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Ras Deshen (4,620 meters/15,157 feet)
Lowest point on land: Danakil Depression (125 meters/410 feet below sea level)
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 3 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 1,639 kilometers (1,018 miles) from east to west; 1,577 kilometers (980 miles) from north to south
Land boundaries: 5,311 kilometers (3,300 miles) total boundary length; Djibouti 337 kilometers (209 miles); Eritrea 912 kilometers (567 miles); Kenya 830 kilometers (516 miles); Somalia 1,626 kilometers (1,010 miles); Sudan 1,606 kilometers (998 miles).
Territorial sea limits: None
Ethiopia is located in eastern Africa in the area known as the Horn of Africa: the northeastern extension of the continent. The country lies west of Somalia, north of Kenya, east of Sudan, and south of Eritrea and Djibouti. With an area of about 1,127,127 square kilometers (435,186 square miles), the country is slightly less than twice the size of the state of Texas. Ethiopia is divided into nine states and two self-governing administrations.
The territory of Eritrea was once a part of Ethiopia. Eritrea became an independent nation in 1993, however, after a long and bloody war fought over several decades. As of 2002, the governments of both nations were in dispute concerning the official boundaries between the countries.
Ethiopia has three main climatic zones: the dega , or cool zone; the weina dega , or temperate zone; and the kolla , or hot zone. In the highlands above 2,400 meters (7,800 feet) in elevation, daily temperatures range from near freezing to 16° C (61° F), with March, April, and May the warmest months. Nights are usually cold throughout the year, and it is not uncommon to greet the day with light frost. Snow is found at the highest elevations. Daily temperatures at lower elevations—from 1,500 meters to 2,400 meters (4,875 feet to 7,800 feet)—range from 16°C (61°F) to 30°C (86°F). Below 1,500 meters (4,875 feet) is the kolla zone, with daytime temperatures averaging 27°C (81°F), but soaring to 40°C (104°F) in the Ogaden region during midyear.
Ethiopia is affected by the seasonal monsoon trade winds from the Atlantic Ocean that cross the African continent. The country receives most of its rain from mid-June to mid-September, with the high plateau experiencing a second and light rainy season from December to February. Converging winds in April and May bring lighter rains known as the balg . Annual precipitation is heaviest in the southwest, reaching up to 200 centimeters (80 inches). Up to 122 centimeters (48 inches) of rain falls annually in the highlands. The Ogaden in the east receives as little as 10 centimeters (4 inches), and precipitation in the Great Rift Valley and the Danakil Depression is negligible.
Ethiopia has some of the most spectacular scenery in Africa. Much of the country is set on a high plateau, with a massive central highland complex of mountains divided by the deep Great Rift Valley and a series of lowlands along the periphery (edges) of the higher elevations. The wide diversity of terrain produces regional variations in climate, natural vegetation, soil composition, and settlement patterns.
In the northwest, Simien Mountains National Park provides a habitat for such native animals as baboons, ibex, Simien fox, and birds of prey including a large vulture species, the bearded vulture or lammergeyer .
Most of Ethiopia is seismically active. There are hot springs that bubble up from deep below the earth's crust in Addis Ababa and elsewhere. There is potential for serious and damaging earthquakes in the area surrounding the Great Rift Valley. Ethiopia is located on the African Tectonic Plate, with the Arabian Tectonic Plate somewhat further to the north, beyond Eritrea. The Great Rift Valley extends across the country from the southwest to the northeast.
Neighboring Somalia claims the Ogaden border region in the southeast, but an exact border between the two countries has never been determined.
Ethiopia is a landlocked country.
A chain of large lakes dots the southern half of the Ethiopian area of the Great Rift Valley. Some are freshwater lakes, fed by small streams from the east; others contain various salts and minerals. Lake Turkana (also called Lake Rudolf), fed by the Omo River, is the largest lake in the country, with an area of about 6,405 square kilometers (2,473 square miles). However, most of Lake Turkana is situated in Kenya; only the northernmost portion extends into Ethiopia. Other lakes in the southern Rift Valley are Ch'ew Bahir, Chamo, and Abaya. Lake Abe, fed by the Awash River, is located in the northern part of the Rift Valley, on the border with Djibouti.
Lake Tana is located in the northwest, on the Ethiopian Plateau. It is the largest lake located entirely within Ethiopia, with an area of about 2,849 square kilometers (1,110 square miles), and it is the source of the Blue Nile.
Most of the northern and western rivers are a part of the vast Nile River system. Most notable of these is the Blue Nile (Abay), which flows out of Lake Tana towards the center of the country before curving northwest into Sudan. In the center of Sudan, the Blue Nile meets the White Nile to form the Nile River. The Atbara River and its tributary, the Tekeze River, both begin in Ethiopia and also flow into the Nile in Sudan. Together, the Blue Nile and the Atbara provide about 70 percent of the water volume in the Nile River. The Baro River in southwestern Ethiopia is another Nile tributary. Taken together, these four Nile tributaries account for about half of the outflow of water from the country.
Near Bahir Dar, the Blue Nile Falls (Tsisat Falls) are known as a site where many rainbows appear.
In the northern half of the Great Rift Valley, the Awash River flows between steep cliffs. Originating some 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Addis Ababa, it courses northward and descends several thousand feet to the valley floor. There it is joined by several tributaries until it becomes a river of major importance, only to disappear into the saline lakes of the Danakil Depression, most notably Lake Abe. The Omo River rises near the source of the Awash, but flows south into Lake Turkana at the other end of Ethiopia's portion of the Great Rift Valley.
In the southeast regions of the Somali Plateau, seasonally torrential rivers provide drainage toward the southeast. Chief of these is the Shabeelle, which has its source in several smaller rivers in the south and flows into Somalia. While it does not carry as much water as the Blue Nile, the Shabeelle is the longest river to flow through Ethiopia, with a total length of about 2,011 kilometers (1,250 miles). It is a tributary of the Gestro (Jubba), which also has its source in Ethiopia and flows into Somalia. The Gestro generally flows year-round into the Indian Ocean, thanks in part to its northern tributary, the Dawa. In contrast, the Shabeelle can dry up in the deserts of Somalia before ever reaching the Gestro.
The Danakil Depression is a sunken desert region in the northeast that stretches between the Red Sea to the Great Rift Valley. It is a large, triangular-shaped basin that in some places is as low as 125 meters (410 feet) below sea level. The lowest elevation in the country, it is also said to be one of the hottest places on Earth.
Sections of marshy lowlands exist along the Sudanese border in the west and southwest.
The Borena and Ogaden plains in the south are characterized by grassy ranges and are highly vulnerable to drought and erosion, especially from overgrazing.
The Blue Nile, one of the tributary streams that eventually flow into the Nile River, has its source in Ethiopia. With a total length of 6,693 kilometers (4,160 miles), the Nile is the longest river in the world. Its main headstream rises from Lake Victoria of Tanzania and Uganda. These rivers meet in Sudan and flow into Egypt. Throughout its length in Egypt, no other tributary streams enter the Nile before it empties into the Mediterranean Sea through a large delta.
Highlands in remote areas above 1,800 meters (5,850 feet) are covered with a varied as-sortment of evergreens and conifers, especially zigba and tid. Due to population pressures, however, many forests' borders have shrunk into relatively inaccessible areas.
High mountain elevations above the tree line along the Sudanese border are under intensive agricultural development. Even steep slopes and marginal areas are being cultivated for crop production.
The highest point in Ethiopia is a volcanic cone in the northeast, Ras Deshen (Mount Rasdajan). With an elevation of about 4,620 meters (15,157 feet), Ras Deshen is Africa's fourth-highest mountain.
There are sixty-seven volcanoes in Ethiopia, more than any other country in Africa; yet many are rather small. The most famous of these is Erta Ale, which has a relatively low peak at only 613 meters (2,011 feet). It has been erupting almost continuously since 1967 and has an active lava lake in its summit crater. The existence of these small volcanoes, hot springs, and many deep gorges indicates that large segments of the land mass are still geologically unstable. Despite the line of seismic belts that extends along the length of the Eritrean border and the Danakil Depression, no serious earthquakes were recorded in the area during the twentieth century.
Some geographers, especially Ethiopians, consider the Great Rift Valley a distinct region. It is the most extensive fault on Earth's surface, extending from the Jordan River Valley in the Middle East to the Shire tributary of the Zambezi River in Mozambique. The vast segment that runs through the center of Ethiopia is marked in the north by the Danakil Depression. To the south, the rift becomes a deep trench slicing through the high plateau from north to south, with an average width of 48 kilometers (30 miles). The Awash River courses through the northern section of the trench.
While the Great Rift Valley is by far the most impressive of Ethiopia canyons, millennia of erosion have produced other steep-sided valleys throughout the country; in some areas, these have been measured at about 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) deep and several kilometers wide.
The Blue Nile winds in a great arc starting at Lake Tana and courses in an arc through canyons more than 1,200 meters (4,000 feet) in depth before flowing into Sudan.
The Sof Omar caves are located about 450 kilometers (280 miles) southeast of Addis Ababa. They consist of a series of tunnels and chambers carved into limestone and chalk by the Web River. The caves are considered to be a sacred place by some Muslims. Legend tells that Sheik Sof Omar was seeking refuge in the area when Allah opened the mouth of the cave for him. Omar was said to have used the caves as a mosque for his entire life.
In the northwest, the Simien Mountains National Park features a rocky massif, with deep gorges cut into it by streams.
The highland that comprises much of the country consists of two regions: the Ethiopian Plateau in the west, which is bisected by the Great Rift Valley, and the Somali Plateau in the east. The higher Ethiopian Plateau is rugged and mountainous, while the Somali Plateau is sparsely populated, arid, and rocky.
Northward from Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian Plateau inclines slightly toward the west and northwest, then abruptly descends near the boundary with Sudan. Given the rugged nature of these massifs and the surrounding tableland, this region's name is somewhat misleading. Little of the Ethiopian Plateau is actually flat, except for a scattering of level-topped mountains known to Ethiopians as ambas.
South of Addis Ababa, the plateau is also rugged, but its elevation is slightly lower than in its northwestern section. The eastern segment beyond the Great Rift Valley exhibits characteristics almost identical to those of its western counterpart.
The Horn of Africa is a peninsula that juts out from the northeast of the African continent, just below the Red Sea. It separates the Gulf of Aden from the Indian Ocean. Because the two main countries on the Horn of Africa are Ethiopia and Somalia, it is sometimes called the Somali Peninsula.
The Churches of Lalibela are located in that town in the central highland region of Ethiopia. At least eleven monolithic cave churches were carved into the rocks here in the thirteenth century. People come to Lalibela to see these rock churches, hewn out of the bedrock. The churches have been maintained by generations of priests who guard their treasures of ornamented crosses, illuminated Bibles, and illustrated manuscripts. The site has been named a World Heritage Site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
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