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DR Congo - Geography

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) lies on the equator and has borders with 9 African countries Congo (Brazzaville), the Central African Republic, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia and Angola. It has a small coastline on the Atlantic. The central region has an equatorial climate with high temperatures and heavy rainfall, with different climatic cycles in the northern and southern regions.

The vast, low-lying central area is a basin-shaped plateau sloping toward the west and covered by tropical rainforest. This area is surrounded by mountainous terraces in the west, plateaus merging into savannas in the south and southwest, and dense grasslands extending beyond the Congo River in the north. High mountains are found in the extreme eastern region.

The DRC lies on the Equator, with one-third of the country to the north and two-thirds to the south. The climate is hot and humid in the river basin and cool and dry in the southern highlands. South of the Equator, the rainy season lasts from October to May and north of the Equator, from April to November. Along the Equator, rainfall is fairly regular throughout the year. During the wet season, thunderstorms often are violent but seldom last more than a few hours. The average annual rainfall for the entire country is about 107 centimeters (42 in.).

The Democratic Republic of the Congo includes the greater part of the Congo River basin, which covers an area of almost one million square kilometers (400,000 sq. mi.). The country's only outlet to the Atlantic Ocean is a narrow strip of land on the north bank of the Congo River. 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.

In the classic novella Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad's protagonist, Marlow, describes the Congo River as an immense snake "... uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land." The description, while wonderfully evocative, is also a bit menacing. Most of Zaire is served by the Congo River system, a fact that has facilitated both trade and outside penetration.

It is so immense that its source waters in the highlands of east Africa take more than six months to exit into the Atlantic Ocean, some 2,900 miles (4,670 kilometers) to the west. The river and its tributaries represent over 9,000 miles (14,500 kilometers) of navigable passage across central Africa, and provide food and livelihoods for the 30 million people who live in this vast region.

Its network of waterways is dense and evenly distributed through the country, with three exceptions: northeastern Mayombe in Bas-Zaire 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.

The Congo's 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 one thought to be greater than that found in any other river system on earth.

The tremendous hydroelectric potential is estimated at 100,000 megawatts. Installed capacity estimated at 2,486 megawatts in 1987, with 95 percent hydropower. Largest hydroelectric site at Inga dams on lower Congo River supplies mining center, main power consumer, in Shaba Region via 1,725-kilometer highvoltage transmission line. Operational status of line precarious in early 1990s because of lack of maintenance. Cost overruns and underestimated management costs for foreign managers turned cheap power into expensive electricity.

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Page last modified: 01-01-2017 19:36:53 ZULU