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Geography, climate and population
Namibia lies along the southwestern coast of Africa, and is bordered by Angola in the north, Zambia and Zimbabwe in the northeast, Botswana to the east, South Africa in the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. It occupies an area of 824 290 km2. Its north-south extent is about 1 300 km, while it measures between about 450 and 900 km from east to west, excluding the Caprivi Strip panhandle in the northeast. The highest point is the Konigstein with an altitude of 2 606 m.
The country is divided into three topographical regions:
- The coastal desert region, which includes the Namib Desert and follows the entire length of the coastline. This area is composed of mobile dunes, gravel and sandy plains.
- The inland plateau region, which is a continuation of the South African Plateau and stretches from the southern to the northern border and covers more than half of the country. It contains the isolated massifs of the Tsaris Mountains in the southwest, the Anas Mountains in the central area and the Erongo Mountains in the west. This plateau comprises mountains, highland areas and the Great Western Escarpment.
- The dune- and grass-covered Kalahari Desert to the east and south of the inland plateau region. This area is covered by sand of different thicknesses.
The three main vegetation regions are:
- Savannah, covering about 64 percent of Namibia’s land surface.
- Desert vegetation, covering about 16 percent.
- Dry woodlands, covering about 20 percent of the land.
The cultivable area is estimated to be 25 million ha. In 2002, the cultivated area was 820 000 ha, of which 816 000 ha arable land, while 4 000 ha were under permanent crops, accounting together for about 1 percent of the total land area of the country and 3 percent of the cultivable area (Table 1).
Namibia’s climate is characterized by hot and dry conditions and sparse and erratic rainfall. Within Africa the climate is second in aridity only to the Sahara Desert and 92 percent of the land area is defined as hyper-arid, arid or semi-arid. Rainfall patterns are characterized by their high temporal and spatial variability. Conventional statistical descriptors such as mean and even median are often difficult to use and estimates of rainfall characteristics and patterns based on point measurements are problematic.
Mean annual rainfall is estimated to be 285 mm. Of the total rainfall, 83 percent evaporates, 14 percent is used up by vegetation, 1 percent recharges groundwater and only 2 percent becomes runoff and may be harnessed in surface storage facilities. Net evaporation can be as high as 3 700 mm per year. In the coastal plateau the average monthly evapotranspiration always exceeds the rainfall by a factor of up to five. The coastal region is an arid desert less than 300 m above sea level. Along the coastal belt, precipitation from advective fog exceeds precipitation from rainfall.
Mean annual temperatures are below 16 °C along the southern coast, between 20 °C and 22 °C in large parts of the country’s interior and the eastern parts, and above 22 °C in the north. Temperatures are moderated by the cold Benguela currents along the coast. In Windhoek average temperature ranges are from 6 °C to 20 °C in July to 17 °C to 29 °C in January.
The country’s population is about 2 million (2004), with an annual growth rate of 2.1 percent (Table 1). Of the total population, 67 percent are rural. Namibia is one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries with a population density of 2.4 inhabitants/km2. Wealth distribution is highly inequitable, and there is a high incidence of extreme poverty. In 1998, 10 percent of the population received 65 percent of income leaving only 35 percent for the remaining 90 percent. Subsistence farmers and livestock herders, who earn their livelihoods in extremely harsh and stressful conditions account for 70 percent of the population. The unemployment rate is 40 percent. In 2002, 98 percent of the urban and 72 percent of the rural population were using improved drinking water sources; coverage is 80 percent at the national level (Table 1).