Location: Western Africa, bordering the Gulf of Guinea,
between Cote d'Ivoire and Togo
Geographic coordinates: 8 00 N, 2 00 W
Map references: Africa
total: 238,540 sq km
land: 230,020 sq km
water: 8,520 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than Oregon
total: 2,093 km
border countries: Burkina Faso 548 km, Cote d'Ivoire 668
km, Togo 877 km
Coastline: 539 km
contiguous zone: 24 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: tropical; warm and comparatively dry along southeast
coast; hot and humid in southwest; hot and dry in north
Terrain: mostly low plains with dissected plateau in south-central
lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Mount Afadjato 880 m
Natural resources: gold, timber, industrial diamonds, bauxite,
manganese, fish, rubber, hydropower
arable land: 12%
permanent crops: 7%
permanent pastures: 22%
forests and woodland: 35%
other: 24% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 60 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: dry, dusty, harmattan winds occur from
January to March; droughts
Environment - current issues: recent drought in north severely
affecting agricultural activities; deforestation; overgrazing; soil
erosion; poaching and habitat destruction threatens wildlife populations;
water pollution; inadequate supplies of potable water
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification,
Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Law of the Sea,
Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical
Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Marine Life Conservation
Geography - note: Lake Volta is the world's largest artificial
lake; northeasterly harmattan wind (January to March)
Size: 238,533 square kilometers, roughly the size
of the states of Illinois and Indiana.
Topography: Generally low physical relief except
in the east. Five distinct geographical regions: low plains inland
from Atlantic coast; northern plateau stretching from western border
to Volta River Basin averaging 450 meters in height; mountainous
uplands along eastern border, bisected in south by Volta River Gorge;
Volta River Basin in center; and dissected plateau up to 300 meters
high in north.
Climate: Tropical climate governed by interaction
of dry continental airmass from the northeast and moist southwest
equatorial system. Annual mean temperature between 26°C and
29°C. Annual rainfall varies from more than 2,100 millimeters
in southwest to 1,000 millimeters in north. Vegetation heaviest
in south, thinning to savanna and dry plains in north.
Data as of November 1994
Location and Size
Ghana, which lies in the center of the West African coast, shares
borders with the three French-speaking nations of Cτte d'Ivoire
to the west, Togo to the east, and Burkina Faso (Burkina, formerly
Upper Volta) to the north. To the south are the Gulf of Guinea and
the Atlantic Ocean.
With a total area of 238,533 square kilometers, Ghana is about
the size of Britain. Its southernmost coast at Cape Three Points
is 4° 30' north of the equator. From here, the country extends
inland for some 670 kilometers to about 11° north. The distance
across the widest part, between longitude 1° 12' east and longitude
3° 15' west, measures about 560 kilometers. The Greenwich Meridian,
which passes through London, also traverses the eastern part of
Ghana at Tema.
Data as of November 1994
Ghana is characterized in general by low physical relief. Indeed,
the Precambrian rock system that underlies most of the nation has
been worn down by erosion almost to a plain. The highest elevation
in Ghana, Mount Afadjato in the Akwapim-Togo Ranges, rises only
880 meters above sea level.
There are, nonetheless, five distinct geographical regions. Low
plains stretch across the southern part of the country. To their
north lie three regions--the Ashanti Uplands, the Akwapim-Togo Ranges,
and the Volta Basin. The fifth region, the high plains, occupies
the northern and northwestern sector of the country (see
fig. 4). Like most West African countries, Ghana has no natural
harbors. Because strong surf pounds the shoreline, two artificial
harbors were built at Takoradi and Tema (the latter completed in
1961) to accommodate Ghana's shipping needs.
Data as of November 1994
The Low Plains
The low plains comprise the four subregions of the coastal savanna,
the Volta Delta, the Accra Plains, and the Akan Lowlands. A narrow
strip of grassy and scrubby coast runs from a point near Takoradi
in the west to the Togo border in the east. This coastal savanna,
only about eight kilometers in width at its western end, stretches
eastward through the Accra Plains, where it widens to more than
eighty kilometers, and terminates at the southeastern corner of
the country at the lower end of the Akwapim-Togo Ranges.
Almost flat and featureless, the Accra Plains descend gradually
to the gulf from a height of about 150 meters. The topography east
of the city of Accra is marked by a succession of ridges and spoonshaped
valleys. The hills and slopes in this area are the favored lands
for cultivation. Shifting cultivation is the usual agricultural
practice because of the swampy nature of the very lowlying areas
during the rainy seasons and the periodic blocking of the rivers
at the coast by sandbars that form lagoons. A plan to irrigate the
Accra Plains was announced in 1984. Should this plan come to reality,
much of the area could be opened to large-scale cultivation.
To the west of Accra, the low plains contain wider valleys and
rounded low hills, with occasional rocky headlands. In general,
however, the land is flat and covered with grass and scrub. Dense
groves of coconut palms front the coastline. Several commercial
centers, including Winneba, Saltpond, and Cape Coast, are located
here. Although Winneba has a small livestock industry and palm tree
cultivation is expanding in the area away from the coast, the predominant
occupation of the coastal inhabitants is fishing by dug-out canoe.
The Volta Delta, which forms a distinct subregion of the low plains,
extends into the Gulf of Guinea in the extreme southeast. The delta's
rock formation--consisting of thick layers of sandstone, some limestone,
and silt deposits--is flat, featureless, and relatively young. As
the delta grew outward over the centuries, sandbars developed across
the mouths of the Volta and smaller rivers that empty into the gulf
in the same area, forming numerous lagoons, some quite large, making
road construction difficult. To avoid the lowest-lying areas, for
example, the road between Accra and Keta makes an unusual detour
inland just before reaching Ada and finally approaches Keta from
the east along the narrow spit on which the town stands. This notwithstanding,
road links with Keta continue to be a problem. By 1989 it was estimated
that more than 3,000 houses in the town had been swallowed by flooding
from the lagoon. In addition, about 1,500 other houses were destroyed
by erosion caused by the powerful waves of the sea.
Ironically, it is this flat, silt-composed delta region with its
abundance of water that supports shallot, corn, and cassava cultivation
in the region. Moreover, the sandy soil of the delta gave rise to
the copra industry. Salt-making, from the plentiful supply in the
dried beds of the lagoons, provides additional employment. The main
occupation of the delta people, however, continues to be fishing,
an industry that supplies dried and salted fish to other parts of
The largest part of the low plains is the Akan Lowlands. Some experts
prefer to classify this region as a subdivision of the Ashanti Uplands
because of the many characteristics they share. Unlike the uplands,
however, the height of the Akan Lowlands is generally between sea
level and 150 meters. Some ranges and hills rise to about 300 meters,
but few exceed 600 meters. The lowlands that lie to the south of
the Ashanti Uplands receive the many rivers that make their way
to the sea.
The Akan Lowlands contain the basins of the Densu River, the Pra
River, the Ankobra River, and the Tano River, all of which play
important roles in the economy of Ghana. The Densu River Basin,
location of the important urban centers of Koforidua and Nsawam
in the eastern lowlands, has an undulating topography. Many of the
hills here have craggy summits, which give a striking appearance
to the landscape. The upper section of the Pra River Basin, to the
west of the Densu, is relatively flat; the topography of its lower
reaches, however, resembles that of the Densu Basin and is a rich
cocoa and food-producing region. The valley of the Birim River,
one of the main tributaries of the Pra, is the country's most important
The Ankobra River Basin and the middle and lower basins of the
Tano River to the west of the lowlands form the largest subdivision
of the Akan Lowlands. Here annual rainfall between 1,500 and 2,150
millimeters helps assure a dense forest cover. In addition to timber,
the area is rich in minerals. The Tarkwa goldfield, the diamond
operations of the Bonsa Valley, and high-grade manganese deposits
are all found in this area. The middle and lower Tano basins have
been intensely explored for oil and natural gas since the mid-1980s.
The lower basins of the Pra, Birim, Densu, and Ankobra rivers are
also sites for palm tree cultivation.
Data as of November 1994
Comprising the Southern Ashanti Uplands and the Kwahu Plateau,
the Ashanti Uplands lie just north of the Akan Lowlands and stretch
from the Cτte d'Ivoire border in the west to the elevated edge of
the Volta Basin in the east. Stretching in a northwest-to-southeast
direction, the Kwahu Plateau extends 193 kilometers between Koforidua
in the east and Wenchi in the northwest. The average elevation of
the plateau is about 450 meters, rising to a maximum of 762 meters.
The relatively cool temperatures of the plateau were attractive
to Europeans, particularly missionaries, who founded many well-known
schools and colleges in this region.
The plateau forms one of the important physical divides in Ghana.
From its northeastern slopes, the Afram and Pru Rivers flow into
the Volta River, while from the opposite side, the Pra, Birim, Ofin,
Tano, and other rivers flow south toward the sea. The plateau also
marks the northernmost limit of the forest zone. Although large
areas of the forest cover have been destroyed through farming, enough
deciduous forest remains to shade the head waters of the rivers
that flow from the plateau.
The Southern Ashanti Uplands, extending from the foot of the Kwahu
Plateau in the north to the lowlands in the south, slope gently
from an elevation of about 300 meters in the north to about 150
meters in the south. The region, however, contains several hills
and ranges as well as several towns of historical and economic importance,
including Kumasi, Ghana's second largest city and former capital
of the Asante (also seen as
Ashanti--see Glossary) empire (see The
Precolonial Period , ch. 1). Obuasi and Konongo, two of the
country's gold-mining centers, are also located here. The region
is the country's chief producer of cocoa, and its tropical forests
continue to be a vital source of timber for the lumber industry.
Data as of November 1994
The Akwapim-Togo Ranges in the eastern part of the country consist
of a generally rugged complex of folded strata, with many prominent
heights composed of volcanic rock. The ranges begin west of Accra
and continue in a northeasterly direction, finally crossing the
frontier into Togo.
In their southeastern part, the ranges are bisected by a deep,
narrow gorge cut by the Volta River. The head of this gorge is the
site of the Akosombo Dam, which impounds the river to form Lake
Volta. The ranges south of the gorge form the Akwapim section of
the mountains. The average elevation in this section is about 450
meters, and the valleys are generally deep and relatively narrow.
North of the gorge, for about eighty kilometers, the Togo section
has broader valleys and low ridges. Beyond this point, the folding
becomes more complex and heights increase greatly, with several
peaks rising more than 610 meters above sea level. The country's
highest point, Mount Afadjato, is located in this area.
The ranges are largely covered with deciduous forests, and their
higher elevation provides a relatively cooler, pleasant climate.
Small-scale subsistence farming is typical in the ranges. In addition
to the cultivation of rice and other staples, coffee plantations
are found in the Togo section of the ranges.
Data as of November 1994
Occupying the central part of Ghana, the Volta Basin covers about
45 percent of the nation's total land surface. Its northern section,
which lies above the upper part of Lake Volta, rises to a height
of 150 to 215 meters above sea level. Elevations of the Konkori
Scarp to the west and the Gambaga Scarp to the north reach from
300 to 460 meters. To the south and the southwest, the basin is
less than 300 meters. The Kwahu Plateau marks the southern end of
the basin, although it forms a natural part of the Ashanti Uplands.
The basin is characterized by poor soil, generally of Voltaian
sandstone. Annual rainfall averages between 1,000 and 1,140 millimeters.
The most widespread vegetation type is savanna, the woodlands of
which, depending on local soil and climatic conditions, may contain
such trees as Red Ironwood and Shea.
The basin's population, principally farmers, is low in density,
especially in the central and northwestern areas of the basin, where
tsetse flies are common. Archeological finds indicate, however,
that the region was once more heavily populated. Periodic burning
evidently occurred over extensive areas for perhaps more than a
millennium, exposing the soil to excessive drying and erosion, rendering
the area less attractive to cultivators.
In contrast with the rest of the region are the Afram Plains, located
in the southeastern corner of the basin. Here the terrain is low,
averaging 60 to 150 meters in elevation, and annual rainfall is
between 1,140 and about 1,400 millimeters. Near the Afram River,
much of the surrounding countryside is flooded or swampy during
the rainy seasons. With the construction of Lake Volta (8,515 hectares
in surface area) in the mid-1960s, much of the Afram Plains was
submerged. Despite the construction of roads to connect communities
displaced by the lake, road transportation in the region remains
poor. Renewed efforts to improve communications, to enhance agricultural
production, and to improve standards of living began in earnest
only in the mid-1980s.
Data as of November 1994
The High Plains
The general terrain in the northern and northwestern part of Ghana
outside the Volta Basin consists of a dissected plateau, which averages
between 150 and 300 meters in elevation and, in some places, is
even higher. Rainfall averages between 1,000 and 1,150 millimeters
annually, although in the northwest it is closer to 1,350 millimeters.
Soils in the high plains are more arable than those in the Volta
Basin, and the population density is considerably higher. Grain
and cattle production are the major economic activities in the high
plains of the northern region. Since the mid-1980s, when former
United States President Jimmy Carter's
Global 2000 program (see Glossary) adopted Ghana as one of a
select number of African countries whose local farmers were to be
educated and financially supported to improve agricultural production,
there has been a dramatic increase in grain production in northern
Ghana. The virtual absence of tsetse flies in the region has led,
moreover, to increased livestock raising as a major occupation in
the north. In fact, the region is the country's largest producer
Data as of November 1994
Rivers and Lakes
Ghana is drained by a large number of streams and rivers. In addition,
there are a number of coastal lagoons, the huge man-made Lake Volta,
and Lake Bosumtwi, southeast of Kumasi and which has no outlet to
the sea. In the wetter south and southwest areas of Ghana, the river
and stream pattern is denser, but in the area north of the Kwahu
Plateau, the pattern is much more open, making access to water more
difficult. Several streams and rivers also dry up or experience
reduced flow during the dry seasons of the year, while flooding
during the rainy seasons is common.
The major drainage divide runs from the southwest part of the Akwapim-Togo
Ranges northwest through the Kwahu Plateau and then irregularly
westward to the Cτte d'Ivoire border. Almost all the rivers and
streams north of this divide form part of the Volta system. Extending
about 1,600 kilometers in length and draining an area of about 388,000
square kilometers, of which about 158,000 square kilometers lie
within Ghana, the Volta and its tributaries, such as the Afram River
and the Oti River, drain more than twothirds of the country. To
the south of the divide are several smaller, independent rivers.
The most important of these are the Pra River, the Tano River, the
Ankobra River, the Birim River, and the Densu River. With the exception
of smaller streams that dry up in the dry seasons or rivers that
empty into inland lakes, all the major rivers in the country flow
into the Gulf of Guinea directly or as tributaries to other major
rivers. The Ankobra and Tano are navigable for considerable distances
in their lower reaches.
Navigation on the Volta River has changed significantly since 1964.
Construction of the dam at Akosombo, about eighty kilometers upstream
from the coast, created vast Lake Volta and the associated 768,000-kilowatt
hydroelectric project. Arms of the lake extended into the lower-lying
areas, forcing the relocation of 78,000 people to newly created
townships on the lake's higher banks. The Black Volta River and
the White Volta River flow separately into the lake. Before their
confluence was submerged, the rivers came together in the middle
of the country to form the main Volta River. The Oti River and the
Daka River, the principal tributaries of the Volta in the eastern
part of the country, and the Pru River, the Sene River, and the
Afram River, major tributaries to the north of the Kawhu Plateau,
also empty into flooded extensions of the lake in their river valleys.
Lake Volta is a rich source of fish, and its potential as a source
for irrigation is reflected in agricultural mechanization agreement
signed in the late 1980s to irrigate the Afram Plains. The lake
is navigable from Akosombo through Yeji in the middle of the country;
a twenty-four-meter pontoon was commissioned in 1989 to link the
Afram Plains to the west of the lake with the lower Volta region
to the east. Hydroelectricity generated from Akosombo supplies Ghana,
Togo, and Benin.
On the other side of the Kwahu Plateau from Lake Volta are several
river systems, including the Pra, Ankobra, Tano and Densu. The Pra
is the easternmost and the largest of the three principal rivers
that drain the area south of the Volta divide. Rising south of the
Kwahu Plateau and flowing southward, the Pra enters the Gulf of
Guinea east of Takoradi. In the early part of the twentieth century,
the Pra was used extensively to float timber to the coast for export.
This trade is now carried by road and rail transportation.
The Ankobra, which flows to the west of the Pra, has a relatively
small drainage basin. It rises in the hilly region of Bibiani and
flows in a southerly direction to enter the gulf just west of Axim.
Small craft can navigate approximately eighty kilometers inland
from its mouth. At one time, the Ankobra helped transport machinery
to the gold-mining areas in the vicinity of Tarkwa. The Tano, which
is the westernmost of the three rivers, rises near Techiman in the
center of the country. It also flows in a southerly direction, but
it empties into a lagoon in the southeast corner of Cτte d'Ivoire.
Navigation by steam launch is possible on the southern sector of
the Tano for about seventy kilometers.
A number of rivers are found to the east of the Pra. The two most
important are the Densu and Ayensu, which are important as sources
of water for Accra and Winneba, respectively. The country has one
large natural lake, Lake Bosumtwi, located about thirty-two kilometers
southeast of Kumasi. It occupies the steep-sided caldera of a former
volcano and has an area of about forty-seven square kilometers.
A number of small streams flow into Lake Bosumtwi, but there is
no drainage from it. Apart from providing an opportunity for fishing
for local inhabitants, the lake serves as a tourist attraction.
Data as of November 1994
The country's warm, humid climate has an annual mean temperature
between 26°C and 29°C. Variations in the principal elements
of temperature, rainfall, and humidity that govern the climate are
influenced by the movement and interaction of the dry tropical continental
air mass, or the harmattan, which blows from the northeast across
the Sahara, and the opposing tropical maritime or moist equatorial
system. The cycle of the seasons follows the apparent movement of
the sun back and forth across the equator.
During summer in the northern hemisphere, a warm and moist maritime
air mass intensifies and pushes northward across the country. A
low-pressure belt, or intertropical front, in the air mass brings
warm air, rain, and prevailing winds from the southwest. As the
sun returns south across the equator, the dry, dusty, tropical continental
front, or harmattan, prevails.
Climatic conditions across the country are hardly uniform. The
Kwahu Plateau, which marks the northernmost extent of the forest
area, also serves as an important climatic divide. To its north,
two distinct seasons occur. The harmattan season with its dry, hot
days and relatively cool nights from November to late March or April,
is followed by a wet period that reaches its peak in late August
or September. To the south and southwest of the Kwahu Plateau, where
the annual mean rainfall from north to south ranges from 1,250 millimeters
2,150 millimeters, four separate seasons occur. Heavy rains fall
from about April through late June. After a relatively short dry
period in August, another rainy season begins in September and lasts
through November, before the longer harmattan season sets in to
complete the cycle.
The extent of drought and rainfall varies across the country. To
the south of the Kwahu Plateau, the heaviest rains occur in the
Axim area in the southwest corner of Ghana. Farther to the north,
Kumasi receives an average annual rainfall of about 1,400 millimeters,
while Tamale in the drier northern savanna receives rainfall of
1,000 millimeters per year. From Takoradi eastward to the Accra
Plains, including the lower Volta region, rainfall averages only
750 millimeters to 1,000 millimeters a year.
Temperatures are usually high at all times of the year throughout
the country. At higher elevations temperatures are more comfortable.
In the far north, temperature highs of 31°C are common. The
southern part of the country is characterized by generally humid
conditions. This is particularly so during the night, when 95 to
100 percent humidity is possible. Humid conditions also prevail
the northern section of the country during the rainy season. During
the harmattan season, however, humidity drops as low as 25 percent
in the north.
Data as of November 1994