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Geography, climate and population

Botswana is a landlocked country lying in the centre of Southern Africa between Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia. At no point is it closer than 500 km to either the Atlantic or the Indian Ocean. The total area within national boundaries is 581 730 km2. Its altitude averages about 1 000 m above sea level, but most of the country is flat with gentle undulations and occasional rocky outcrops. The main forested areas are in the north and northeastern parts of the country. Most soils in the country are light with limited water-holding capacity. According to 2002 figures, only 5 percent of the land is suitable for agricultural production and less than 1 percent is cultivated (Table 1).

Three agro-ecological zones can be distinguished in the country:

  • In the centre and west, the Kalahari Desert covers over two-thirds of the total area. Although it has low rainfall, the predominant landscape is not desert but savannah grasslands interspersed with woodland. The sandy soils are not well suited to cultivation, but support considerable numbers of cattle, goats, other livestock and wildlife;
  • The east of the country, consisting of loamy clay soils, has a less harsh climate and more fertile soils than the Kalahari. Rainfall is generally in excess of 400 mm annually. The predominant landscape is savannah grasslands and woodlands, with a small amount of forest;
  • In the northwest, the Okavango Delta presents a different landscape: vast areas of open water and lush, green wetlands with an abundance of wildlife. The area of the Delta varies according to season and rainfall. To the east of the Delta lie the Makgadikgadi Pans: vast, flat, salty depressions, where there was once a huge lake, the endpoint of the Okavango River.

The climate is arid and semi-arid, with low rainfall and high rates of evapotranspiration. Mean annual rainfall is 416 mm, ranging from 650 mm in the north to 250 mm in the extreme southwest. Rainfall occurs in the form of localized showers and thunderstorms, resulting in large temporal and spatial variations. Rain generally falls between October and March, but the pattern is highly irregular. Drought is a recurring problem, although in early 2000 record rainfall caused serious flooding. Daytime temperatures in summer can reach 40 ║C while winter days are invariably sunny and cool to warm (5-23 ║C). Annual open water evaporation varies from about 1 900 mm to 2 200 mm. Evaporation rates are highest in the summer when 80-95 percent of the rainfall occurs.

Population is estimated at almost 1.8 million (2004) and about 48 percent of inhabitants are rural (Table 1). Average population density is 3 inhabitants/km2, but 80 percent of the inhabitants are concentrated in the east where most of the livestock grazes and most crop production takes place. Population growth was only 1.5 percent between 1997 and 2003. As a result of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world, life expectancy has fallen sharply, from around 65 in 1991 to 38 years in 2002. Some 95 percent of the population has access to improved drinking water sources (100 percent in urban areas and 90 percent in rural areas). Primary school was completed by 90 percent of the children and 70 percent continued to secondary school in 2000. Unemployment was officially estimated at 15.8 percent of the labour force in 2000.


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