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The Zambezi River Basin

THE ZAMBEZI RIVER BASIN

The total area of its drainage catchment, the Zambezi River Basin, is estimated to be some 1.4 million square kilometres. The basin covers significant areas of Zambia and Zimbabwe, including Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and also extends over Malawi and into Tanzania, and encompasses Lake Malawi (also known as Lake Nyasa or Niassa) which covers 28,000 sq km, Africa's third largest freshwater lake after Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika and third deepest in the world.

Geologically the basin is underlain by ancient rocks of Triassic and Jurassic age (more than 120 million years old). In the upper areas of the river, these rocks are overlain by windblown Kalahari sand, a former extension of the Kalahari desert.

Although the majority of the basin is covered by mixed open woodland and savannah vegetation, from an ecological perspective there are small but significant areas of other habitats including highlands, grasslands, shrublands, forests and wetlands.

The region is rich in wilderness and wildlife, holding one of the largest concentrations of elephants in Africa and several core lion populations of conservation importance, as well as holding many mammal species of conservation, and tourism, note.

The Zambezi includes many of Africa’s prime safari destinations, including the Kafue, Hwange and Luangwa National Parks. The greater region includes the Kavango, a neighbouring river system which spills over the flat Kalahari sands of Botswana and forms the magnificent wildlife haven of the Okavango Delta its waters lost to the sand and sky.

The total number of people living within the Zambezi River Basin was estimated to be around 40 million. This population is concentrated in the main towns and long transport routes, with rural areas being sparsely populated. The river basin is rich in natural resources and supports industrial activities in fishery, mining, agriculture, tourism and manufacturing. Despite these rich environmental conditions, the economies of the riparian countries are generally characterized by low levels of infrastructure and industrial development, slow economic growth and poor standards of living. 

Read about the Zambezi Region on the following pages:

The Zambezi River

Formation of the Zambezi

Exploration of the Zambezi