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Namibia in south-west Africa is one of the driest and most sparsely populated countries on Earth. It is bounded by the South Atlantic Ocean on the west, Angola to the north, Botswana to the east and South Africa to the south. The Caprivi Strip, a narrow extension of land in the extreme north-east, connects it to Zambia.
Namibia comprises 13 regions (from south to north): Karas, Hardap, Khomas, Erongo, Omaheke, Otjozondjupa, Kunene, Oshikoto, Okavango, Omusati, Oshana, Caprivi and Ohangwena.
Windhoek (capital, Khomas region, pop. 325,858), Rundu (Kavango East, 63,431), Walvis Bay (Erongo, 62,096), Swakopmund (Erongo, 44,725), Oshakati (Oshana, 36,451), Rehoboth (Hardap, 28,843), Katima Mulilo (Zambezi, 28,362), Otjiwarongo (Otjozondjupa, 28,249), Okahandja (Otjozondjupa, 22,639), Keetmanshoop (!Karas, 20,977), Tsumeb (Oshikoto, 19,257), Gobabis (Omaheke, 19,101), Grootfontein (Otjozondjupa, 16,632), Lüderitz (!Karas, 12,537) and Usakos (Erongo, 3,583).
There are 44,140 km of roads, 15 per cent paved. Two long-haul road projects were completed in the late 1990s: the Trans-Caprivi Highway and the Trans-Kalahari Highway through Botswana to South Africa. These arteries enable Namibia to provide landlocked central African countries with an outlet to the sea as well as greatly reducing the journey to Johannesburg.
The 2,400 km railway network was established under German colonial rule and much-needed upgrading was carried out from the mid-1990s. Walvis Bay, the only deep-water port, which incorporates an export processing zone, is the main outlet for exports. Use of Lüderitz, Namibia’s second port, has increased, due to a rise in fishing activities.
Air transport is important because of Namibia’s size. There are more than 350 aerodromes and airstrips, with licensed airports in the main towns and mining centres, including the international airport some 40 km from Windhoek.
Namibia is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, African Union, Non-Aligned Movement, Southern African Customs Union, Southern African Development Community, United Nations and World Trade Organization.
Namibia hosts the secretariat of the Southern African Customs Union; the SADC Tribunal; and the SADC Parliamentary Forum.
The country has three broad zones: the Namib Desert to the west; the Kalahari Desert to the east; and the Central Plateau. The plateau, made up of mountains, rocky outcrops, sand- filled valleys and undulating upland plains, covers over 50 per cent of the land area. It includes Windhoek, the capital, and slopes eastward to the Kalahari Basin and northward to the Etosha Pan, the largest of Namibia’s saline lakes. The Skeleton Coast, from Swakopmund to the northern border, is a waterless stretch of high sand dunes pounded by a high surf, much celebrated in tales of the sea. The Kaokoveld Mountains run parallel, covering 66,000 sq km. Shifting sand dunes of the Namib Desert spread inland for 80–130 km, covering 15 per cent of the land area.
Arid, semi-arid and sub-humid. Prolonged periods of drought are characteristic. There is little precipitation apart from rare thunderstorms in the arid zone of the Namib Desert coast, with rainfall rising to 600 mm or more in the sub-humid north- eastern border with Angola and the Caprivi Strip. Rain falls in summer (October to April). The cold Benguela current gives the Namib Desert thick coastal fog.
The most significant environmental issues are the scarcity of natural freshwater resources and desertification.
Much of the terrain is grassland, or plains dotted with scrub. Namibia supports at least 345 different grasses and 2,400 types of flowering plant. Characteristic native plants are acacias, balsam trees, omwandi trees, fig and date palms, makalani palms, mopane (shrubs or trees), monkey-bread trees, marula trees, yellow-blossomed omuparara trees, violet-blossomed apple-leaf trees and shrubs such as the raisin-bush, coffee bush and camphor bush. Aloes, mesembryanthemums and other succulents flower on the Southern Namib dunes after rainfall. White-flowering ana trees flourish in dry river beds. Forest covers nine per cent of the land area, having declined at 0.9 per cent p.a. 1990–2010. Arable land comprises one per cent of the total land area.
Namibia’s wildlife is famous, particularly the exceptional range of bird species found in the wetlands. There are some 200 recorded species of birds, with 27 thought to be endangered (2014). The pans in game parks provide drinking water for most of the typical African wild mammal species. The Etosha National Park, the country’s most famous reserve and one of the largest in the world, contains lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and zebras. The government has a strong conservation policy, but game poaching in the reserves is diminishing stocks of many species. The Namibian seas are naturally rich in fish, and in seabirds which prey on fish.