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1UpTravel - Geography Info and Facts of Countries : . - Democratic Republic of Congo

Democratic Republic of Congo Geography and Facts

Location: Central Africa, northeast of Angola

Geographic coordinates: 0 00 N, 25 00 E

Map references: Africa

total: 2,345,410 sq km
land: 2,267,600 sq km
water: 77,810 sq km

Area - comparative: slightly less than one-fourth the size of the US

Land boundaries:
total: 10,744 km
border countries: Angola 2,511 km, Burundi 233 km, Central African Republic 1,577 km, Republic of the Congo 2,410 km, Rwanda 217 km, Sudan 628 km, Tanzania 473 km, Uganda 765 km, Zambia 1,930 km

Coastline: 37 km

Maritime claims:
exclusive economic zone: boundaries with neighbors
territorial sea: 12 nm

Climate: tropical; hot and humid in equatorial river basin; cooler and drier in southern highlands; cooler and wetter in eastern highlands; north of Equator - wet season April to October, dry season December to February; south of Equator - wet season November to March, dry season April to October

Terrain: vast central basin is a low-lying plateau; mountains in east

Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Pic Marguerite on Mont Ngaliema (Mount Stanley) 5,110 m

Natural resources: cobalt, copper, cadmium, petroleum, industrial and gem diamonds, gold, silver, zinc, manganese, tin, germanium, uranium, radium, bauxite, iron ore, coal, hydropower, timber

Land use:
arable land: 3%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 7%
forests and woodland: 77%
other: 13% (1993 est.)

Irrigated land: 100 sq km (1993 est.)

Natural hazards: periodic droughts in south; volcanic activity

Environment - current issues: poaching threatens wildlife populations; water pollution; deforestation; refugees who arrived in mid-1994 were responsible for significant deforestation, soil erosion, and wildlife poaching in the eastern part of the country (most of those refugees were repatriated in November and December 1996)

Environment - international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Environmental Modification

Geography - note: straddles Equator; very narrow strip of land that controls the lower Congo river and is only outlet to South Atlantic Ocean; dense tropical rain forest in central river basin and eastern highlands



Size: Second largest country in sub-Saharan Africa; about 2,344,885 square kilometers, roughly size of United States east of Mississippi River.

Topography: Major geographic regions include central Congo Basin, uplands north and south of basin, and eastern highlands. Core region is central Congo Basin, large depression with average elevation of about forty-four meters, constituting about one-third of Zaire. North and south of basin lie higher plains and hills covered with mixtures of savanna grasses and woodlands. Southern uplands region also constitutes about one-third of Zaire, with elevations between 500 meters and 1,000 meters. Eastern highlands region highest and most rugged portion, bounded by Great Rift Valley, with some mountains more than 5,000 meters. Eastern border extends through valley and its system of lakes.

Drainage: Most of Zaire served by Congo River system. Congo and its tributaries provide Zaire with Africa's most extensive network of navigable waterways as well as vast hydroelectric potential. Flow of Congo unusually regular because tributaries feed in from both sides of equator.

Climate: Ranges from tropical rain forest in Congo River basin to tropical wet-and-dry in southern uplands to tropical highland in eastern areas above 2,000 meters. In general, temperatures and humidity quite high, but with much variation; many places on both sides of equator have two wet and two dry seasons. Average annual temperature 25°C. Average annual rainfall between 1,000 millimeters and 2,200 millimeters, highest in heart of Congo River basin and highlands west of Bukavu.

Data as of December 1993



The Republic of Zaire is the second largest country of subSaharan Africa, occupying some 2,344,885 square kilometers. It is roughly the size of the United States east of the Mississippi River.

Most of the country lies within the vast hollow of the Congo River basin. The basin has the shape of an amphitheater, open to the north and northwest and closed in the south and east by high plateaus and mountains. The edges of the basin are breached in the west by the passage of the Congo River to the Atlantic Ocean; they are broken and raised in the east by an upheaval of the Great Rift Valley (where lakes Mweru, Tanganyika, Kivu, Edward, and Albert are found) and by overflow from volcanos in the Virunga Mountains.

Data as of December 1993


Rivers and Lakes

The Congo River and its tributaries drain this basin and provide the country with the most extensive network of navigable waterways in Africa. Ten kilometers wide at mid-point of its length, the river carries a volume of water that is second only to the Amazon's. Its flow is unusually regular because it is fed by rivers and streams from both sides of the equator; the complementary alternation of rainy and dry seasons on each side of the equator guarantees a regular supply of water for the main channel. At points where navigation is blocked by rapids and waterfalls, the sudden descent of the river creates a hydroelectric potential greater than that found in any other river system on earth.

Most of Zaire is served by the Congo River system, a fact that has facilitated both trade and outside penetration. Its network of waterways is dense and evenly distributed through the country, with three exceptions: northeastern Mayombé in Bas-Zaïre Region in the west, which is drained by a small coastal river called the Shilango; a strip of land on the eastern border adjoining lakes Edward and Albert, which is part of the Nile River basin; and a small part of extreme southeastern Zaire, which lies in the Zambezi River basin and drains into the Indian Ocean.

Most of Zaire's lakes are also part of the Congo River basin. In the west are Lac Mai-Ndombe and Lac Tumba, which are remnants of a huge interior lake that once occupied the entire basin prior to the breach of the basin's edge by the Congo River and the subsequent drainage of the interior. In the southeast, Lake Mweru straddles the border with Zambia. On the eastern frontier, Lac Kivu, Central Africa's highest lake and a key tourist center, and Lake Tanganyika, just south of Lac Kivu, both feed into the Lualaba River, the name often given to the upper extension of the Congo River. Only the waters of the eastern frontier's northernmost great lakes, Edward and Albert, drain north, into the Nile Basin.

Data as of December 1993


Geographic Regions

Several major geographic regions may be defined in terms of terrain and patterns of natural vegetation, namely the central Congo Basin, the uplands north and south of the basin, and the eastern highlands .

The country's core region is the central Congo Basin. Having an average elevation of about forty-four meters, it measures roughly 800,000 square kilometers, constituting about a third of Zaire's territory. Much of the forest within the basin is swamp, and still more of it consists of a mixture of marshes and firm land.

North and south of the basin lie higher plains and, occasionally, hills covered with varying mixtures of savanna grasses and woodlands. The southern uplands region, like the basin, constitutes about a third of Zaire's territory. The area slopes from south to north, starting at about 1,000 meters near the Angolan border and falling to about 500 meters near the basin. Vegetation cover in the southern uplands territory is more varied than that of the northern uplands. In some areas, woodland is dominant; in others, savanna grasses predominate. South of the basin, along the streams flowing into the Kasai River are extensive gallery forests. In the far southeast, most of Shaba Region (formerly Katanga Province) is characterized by somewhat higher plateaus and low mountains. The westernmost section of Zaire, a partly forested panhandle reaching the Atlantic Ocean, is an extension of the southern uplands that drops sharply to a very narrow shore about forty kilometers long.

In the much narrower northern uplands, the cover is largely savanna, and woodlands are rarer. The average elevation of this region is about 600 meters, but it rises as high as 900 meters where it meets the western edge of the eastern highlands.

The eastern highlands region is the highest and most rugged portion of the country. It extends for more than 1,500 kilometers from above Lake Albert to the southern tip of Shaba below Lubumbashi (formerly Élisabethville) and varies in width from eighty to 560 kilometers. Its hills and mountains range in altitude from about 1,000 meters to more than 5,000 meters. The western arm of the Great Rift Valley forms a natural eastern boundary to this region. The eastern border of Zaire extends through the valley and its system of lakes, which are separated from each other by plains situated between high mountain ranges.

In this region, changes in elevation bring marked changes in vegetation, which ranges from montane savanna to heavy montane forest. The Massif du Ruwenzori (Ruwenzori Mountains or Mountains of the Moon) between lakes Albert and Edward constitutes the highest range in Africa. The height and location of these mountains on the equator make for a varied and spectacular flora. Together with the Virunga Mountains north of Lac Kivu, site of several active volcanos, and together with the game park situated between them, they constitute Zaire's most important potential touristic resource.

Data as of December 1993



Climate ranges from tropical rain forest in the Congo River basin to tropical wet-and-dry in the southern uplands to tropical highland in eastern areas above 2,000 meters in elevation. In general, temperatures and humidity are quite high. The highest and least variable temperatures are to be found in the equatorial forest, where daytime highs range between 30°C and 35°C, and nighttime lows rarely go below 20°C. The average annual temperature is about 25°C. In the southern uplands, particularly in southeastern Shaba, winters are cool and dry, whereas summers are warm and damp. The area embracing the chain of lakes from Lake Albert to Lake Tanganyika in the eastern highlands has a moist climate and a narrow but not excessively warm temperature range. The mountain sections are cooler, but humidity increases with altitude until the saturation point is reached; a nearly constant falling mist prevails on some slopes, particularly in the Ruwenzori Mountains.

The seasonal pattern of rainfall is affected by Zaire's straddling of the equator. In the third of the country that lies north of the equator, the dry season (roughly early November to late March) corresponds to the rainy season in the southern twothirds . There is a great deal of variation, however, and a number of places on either side of the equator have two wet and two dry seasons. Rainfall averages range from about 1,000 millimeters to 2,200 millimeters. Annual rainfall is highest in the heart of the Congo River basin and in the highlands west of Bukavu and with some variation tends to diminish in direct relation to distance from these areas. The only areas marked by long four-month to five-month dry seasons and occasional droughts are parts of Shaba.

Data as of December 1993


Environmental Trends

In the last decade, Africa's rain forests have been destroyed at a faster rate than anywhere else in the world, including the well-publicized Amazon region in South America; Nigeria, for example, is now 90 percent deforested. Environmental degradation has been less of a problem in Zaire than elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Nevertheless, although still 86 percent intact in the early 1990s, Zaire's vast forests will be increasingly at risk. A major threat has been the signing of contracts with foreign logging corporations. Some 37 percent of the total exploitable area of Zaire's rain forest has already been designated as timber concessions.

The most intense logging to date has been in Bas-Zaïre Region in the hinterlands of the capital of Kinshasa. Logging itself disrupts the forest ecology; worse, logging roads carved out of forest to export felled timer have become avenues for immigration into the forest by poor farmers who clear and burn more forest for fields. In 1993 one analyst reported that there was virtually no primary rain forest left in Bas-Zaïre.

In the east, the appropriation of land for ranching and plantations in the Kivu highlands has simultaneously reduced forest hectarage and increased the intensity of use of the remaining land by the existing population. The Ituri Forest of northeastern Zaire has also experienced substantial recent immigration by growing populations in need of fertile soil for their crops. Extensive forest destruction has been reported as a consequence.

Data as of December 1993

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