Location: Eastern Africa, west of Somalia
Geographic coordinates: 8 00 N, 38 00 E
Map references: Africa
total: 1,127,127 sq km
land: 1,119,683 sq km
water: 7,444 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly less than twice the size of
total: 5,311 km
border countries: Djibouti 337 km, Eritrea 912 km, Kenya
830 km, Somalia 1,626 km, Sudan 1,606 km
Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)
Maritime claims: none (landlocked)
Climate: tropical monsoon with wide topographic-induced
Terrain: high plateau with central mountain range divided
by Great Rift Valley
lowest point: Denakil -125 m
highest point: Ras Dashen Terara 4,620 m
Natural resources: small reserves of gold, platinum, copper,
potash, natural gas, hydropower
arable land: 12%
permanent crops: 1%
permanent pastures: 40%
forests and woodland: 25%
other: 22% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 1,900 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: geologically active Great Rift Valley susceptible
to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions; frequent droughts
Environment - current issues: deforestation; overgrazing;
soil erosion; desertification
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification,
Endangered Species, Ozone Layer Protection
signed, but not ratified: Environmental Modification, Law
of the Sea, Nuclear Test Ban
Geography - note: landlocked - entire coastline along the
Red Sea was lost with the de jure independence of Eritrea on 24
Size: About 1,221,900 square kilometers; major
portion of easternmost African landmass known as Horn of Africa.
NOTE--The Country Profile contains updated information
Topography: Massive highland complex of mountains
and dissected plateaus divided by Great Rift Valley running generally
southwest to northeast and surrounded by lowlands, steppes, or semidesert;
northeastern coastline of about 960 kilometers along the Red Sea.
Great terrain diversity determines wide variations in climate, soils,
natural vegetation, and settlement patterns.
Climate: Elevation and geographic location produce
three climatic zones: cool zone above 2,400 meters where temperatures
range from near freezing to 16° C; temperate zone at elevations
of 1,500 to 2,400 meters with temperatures from 16° C to 30°
C; and hot zone below 1,500 meters with both tropical and arid conditions
and daytime temperatures ranging from 27° C to 50° C. Normal
rainy season from mid-June to mid-September (longer in the southern
highlands) preceded by intermittent showers from February or March;
remainder of year generally dry.
Data as of 1991
Ethiopia occupies most of the Horn of Africa. The country covers
approximately 1,221,900 square kilometers and shares frontiers with
Sudan, Kenya, Somalia, and Djibouti. Its Red Sea coastline is about
960 kilometers long. The major physiographic features are a massive
highland complex of mountains and plateaus divided by the Great
Rift Valley and surrounded by lowlands along the periphery. The
diversity of the terrain is fundamental to regional variations in
climate, natural vegetation, soil composition, and settlement patterns.
Data as of 1991
Boundaries: International and Administrative
Except for the Red Sea coastline, only limited stretches of the
country's borders are defined by natural features. Most of Ethiopia's
borders have been delimited by treaty. The Ethiopia-Somalia boundary
has long been an exception, however. One of its sectors has never
been definitively demarcated, thanks to disputed interpretations
of 1897 and 1908 treaties signed by Britain, Italy, and Ethiopia.
This sector was delimited by a provisional "Administrative Line"
that was defined by a 1950 Anglo-Ethiopian agreement, when the United
Nations (UN) established Somalia as a trust territory. After it
became independent in 1960, Somalia refused to recognize any of
the border treaties signed between Ethiopia and the former colonial
powers. The Somali government also demanded a revision of the boundary
that would ensure self-determination for Somali living in the Ogaden.
Consequently, the frontier became the scene of recurrent violence
and open warfare between Ethiopia and Somalia.
Data as of 1991
Topography and Drainage
Much of the Ethiopian landmass is part of the East African Rift
Plateau. Ethiopia has a general elevation ranging from 1,500 to
3,000 meters above sea level. Interspersed on the landscape are
higher mountain ranges and cratered cones, the highest of which,
at 4,620 meters, is Ras Dashen Terara northeast of Gonder. The northernmost
part of the plateau is Ethiopia's historical core and is the location
of the ancient kingdom of Aksum. The national capital of Addis Ababa
("New Flower") is located in the center of the country on the edge
of the central plateau .
Millennia of erosion have produced steep valleys, in places 1,600
meters deep and several kilometers wide. In these valleys flow rapid
streams unsuitable for navigation but possessing potential as sources
of hydroelectric power and water for irrigation.
The highlands that comprise much of the country are often referred
to as the Ethiopian Plateau and are usually thought of as divided
into northern and southern parts. In a strict geographical sense,
however, they are bisected by the Great Rift Valley into the northwestern
highlands and the southeastern highlands, each with associated lowlands.
The northwestern highlands are considerably more extensive and rugged
and are divided into northern and southern sections by the valley
of the Abay (Blue Nile).
North of Addis Ababa, the surface of the plateau is interspersed
with towering mountains and deep chasms that create a variety of
physiography, climate, and indigenous vegetation. The plateau also
contains mountain ranges such as the Chercher and Aranna. Given
the rugged nature of these mountains and the surrounding tableland,
foreigners receive a false impression of the country's topography
when Ethiopians refer to the landform as a plateau. Few of these
peaks' surfaces are flat except for a scattering of level-topped
mountains known to Ethiopians as ambas.
Southwest of Addis Ababa, the plateau also is rugged, but its
elevation is slightly lower than in its northern section. To the
southeast of Addis Ababa, beyond the Ahmar and Mendebo mountain
ranges and the higher elevations of the southeastern highlands,
the plateau slopes gently toward the southeast. The land here is
rocky desert and, consequently, is sparsely populated.
The Great Rift Valley forms a third physiographic region. This
extensive fault system extends from the Jordan Valley in the Middle
East to the Zambezi River's Shire tributary in Mozambique. The segment
running through central Ethiopia is marked in the north by the Denakil
Depression and the coastal lowlands, or Afar Plain, as they are
sometimes known. To the south, at approximately 9° north latitude,
the Great Rift Valley becomes a deep trench slicing through the
plateau from north to south, its width averaging fifty kilometers.
The southern half of the Ethiopian segment of the valley is dotted
by a chain of relatively large lakes. Some hold fresh water, fed
by small streams from the east; others contain salts and minerals.
In the north, the Great Rift Valley broadens into a funnel-shaped
saline plain. The Denakil Depression, a large, triangle-shaped basin
that in places is 115 meters below sea level, is one of the hottest
places on earth. On the northeastern edge of the depression, maritime
hills border a hot, arid, and treeless strip of coastal land sixteen
to eighty kilometers wide. These coastal hills drain inland into
saline lakes, from which commercial salt is extracted. Along the
Red Sea coast are the Dahlak Islands, which are sparsely inhabited.
In contrast with the plateau's steep scarps along the Great Rift
Valley and in the north, the western and southwestern slopes descend
somewhat less abruptly and are broken more often by river exits.
Between the plateau and the Sudanese border in the west lies a narrow
strip of sparsely populated tropical lowland that belongs politically
to Ethiopia but whose inhabitants are related to the people of Sudan
Ethiopia's Peoples, this ch.). These tropical lowlands on the
periphery of the plateau, particularly in the far north and along
the western frontier, contrast markedly with the upland terrain.
The existence of small volcanoes, hot springs, and many deep gorges
indicates that large segments of the landmass are still geologically
unstable. Numerous volcanoes occur in the Denakil area, and hot
springs and steaming fissures are found in other northern areas
of the Great Rift Valley. A line of seismic faults extends along
the length of Eritrea and the Denakil Depression, and small earthquakes
have been recorded in the area in recent times.
All of Ethiopia's rivers originate in the highlands and flow outward
in many directions through deep gorges. Most notable of these is
the Blue Nile, the country's largest river. It and its tributaries
account for two-thirds of the Nile River flow below Khartoum in
Sudan. Because of the general westward slope of the highlands, many
large rivers are tributaries of the Nile system, which drains an
extensive area of the central portion of the plateau. The Blue Nile,
the Tekezé, and the Baro are among them and account for about
half of the country's water outflow. In the northern half of the
Great Rift Valley flows the Awash River, on which the government
has built several dams to generate power and irrigate major commercial
plantations. The Awash flows east and disappears in the saline lakes
near the boundary with Djibouti. The southeast is drained by the
Genale and Shebele rivers and their tributaries, and the southwest
is drained by the Omo.
Data as of 1991
Diverse rainfall and temperature patterns are largely the result
of Ethiopia's location in Africa's tropical zone and the country's
varied topography. Altitude-induced climatic conditions form the
basis for three environmental zones-- cool, temperate, and hot--which
have been known to Ethiopians since antiquity as the dega, the weina
dega, and the kolla, respectively.
The cool zone consists of the central parts of the western and
eastern sections of the northwestern plateau and a small area around
Harer. The terrain in these areas is generally above 2,400 meters
in elevation; average daily highs range from near freezing to 16°C,
with March, April, and May the warmest months. Throughout the year,
the midday warmth diminishes quickly by afternoon, and nights are
usually cold. During most months, light frost often forms at night
and snow occurs at the highest elevations.
Lower areas of the plateau, between 1,500 and 2,400 meters in
elevation, constitute the temperate zone. Daily highs there range
from 16°C to 30°C.
The hot zone consists of areas where the elevation is lower than
1,500 meters. This area encompasses the Denakil Depression, the
Eritrean lowlands, the eastern Ogaden, the deep tropical valleys
of the Blue Nile and Tekezé rivers, and the peripheral areas
along the Sudanese and Kenyan borders. Daytime conditions are torrid,
and daily temperatures vary more widely here than in the other two
regions. Although the hot zone's average annual daytime temperature
is about 27°C, midyear readings in the arid and semiarid areas
along the Red Sea coast often soar to 50°C and to more than
40°C in the arid Ogaden. Humidity is usually high in the tropical
valleys and along the seacoast.
Variations in precipitation throughout the country are the result
of differences in elevation and seasonal changes in the atmospheric
pressure systems that control the prevailing winds. Because of these
factors, several regions receive rainfall throughout most of the
year, but in other areas precipitation is seasonal. In the more
arid lowlands, rainfall is always meager.
In January the high pressure system that produces monsoons in
Asia crosses the Red Sea. Although these northeast trade winds bring
rain to the coastal plains and the eastern escarpment in Eritrea,
they are essentially cool and dry and provide little moisture to
the country's interior. Their effect on the coastal region, however,
is to create a Mediterranean-like climate. Winds that originate
over the Atlantic Ocean and blow across Equatorial Africa have a
marked seasonal effect on much of Ethiopia. The resulting weather
pattern provides the highlands with most of its rainfall during
a period that generally lasts from mid-June to mid-September.
The main rainy season is usually preceded in April and May by
converging northeast and southeast winds that produce a brief period
of light rains, known as balg. These rains are followed by a short
period of hot dry weather, and toward the middle of June violent
thunderstorms occur almost daily. In the southwest, precipitation
is more evenly distributed and also more abundant. The relative
humidity and rainfall decrease generally from south to north and
also in the eastern lowlands. Annual precipitation is heaviest in
the southwest, scant in the Great Rift Valley and the Ogaden, and
negligible in the Denakil Depression.
Data as of 1991