At 825,418 km2 (318,696 sq mi), Namibia is the world’s thirty-fourth largest country (after Venezuela). It lies mostly between latitudes 17° and 29°S (a small area is north of 17°), and longitudes 11° and 26°E.
Namibia is divided into 13 regions and sub-divided into 107 constituencies. The administrative division of Namibia is tabled by Delimitation Commissions and accepted or declined by the National Assembly. Since state foundation three Delimitation Commissions have been formed, the last one in 2002 under the chairmanship of Judge Peter Shivute. Regional councillors are directly elected through secret ballots (regional elections) by the inhabitants of their constituencies.
The Namibian landscape consists generally of five geographical areas, each with characteristic abiotic conditions and vegetation with some variation within and overlap between them: the Central Plateau, the Namib Desert, the Great Escarpment, the Bushveld, and the Kalahari Desert. With Namibia’s tiny population, statistically one could only come across two people every square kilometre. The dramatic physical features of this astounding country draw visitors from all over the globe. Below are some of the most notable:
The wide and flat Central Plateau is home to Namibia’s highest point, the Königstein elevation at 2,606 metres, which runs from north to south and is bordered by the Skeleton Coast to the northwest, the Namib Desert and its coastal plains to the southwest, the Orange River to the south, and the Kalahari Desert to the east. The Central Plateau holds most of Namibia’s population and economy as Windhoek and the most arable land are located here.
Considered to be the oldest desert in the world, the Namib Desert consists of an expanse of hyper-arid gravel plains and dunes that stretch along the entire coastline of Namibia. Due to its constant shapeshifting nature, the size of the desert varies between 100 to several hundred kilometres in width. Notable areas include the Skeleton Coast and the Kaokoveld in the north and the extensive Namib Sand Sea along the central coast. The sand sea is made up from processes of erosion that take place in the Orange River valley and areas further to the south. Masses of sand are carried by rivers to the Atlantic where strong currents deposit them along the shore. The sands are picked up by a prevailing south west wind and redeposited into massive dunes forming the widespread sand sea, which becomes the highest sand dunes in the world.
In other areas, strong winds pummel the land to form large gravel plains in place of the sand. There is little vegetation in most areas of the Namib Desert apart from lichens in places where plants can reach underground water such as in the gravel plains and dry river beds.
Known as the living fossil, the Weltwischia plant is only found in the Namib desert, with some individual plants said to be nearly 2000 years old.
The coastal desert of Namibia is one of the oldest and highest in the world. As part of the sand sea, its sand dunes are created by the strong onshore winds. The Namib Desert and the Namib-Naukluft National Park are located here. It is also one of the richest sources of diamonds in the world and is made up of the Skeleton Coast in the north and the Diamond Coast in the south. There is often thick fog, as a result of the situation on the point where the Atlantic’s cold water reaches Africa. Namibia has rich coastal and marine resources that remain largely unexplored.
The Great Escarpment rises swiftly to over 2,000 metres and sees temperature ranges increasing further inland from the cold Atlantic waters with the prevalence of the coastal fogs diminishing slowly inwards. The area is rocky and although it has poor soils, it is greatly more productive than the Namib Desert.
Moisture is extracted from the summer winds which push over the Escarpment. This unique precipitation together with the varying topography, are responsible for the microhabitats of a wide range of endemic organisms. The varying vegetation ranges from dense woodland to shrubs and scattered trees.
The Bushveld lies in north eastern Namibia along the Angolan border and in the narrow corridor of the Caprivi Strip which has access to the Zambezi River, and is part of the KAZA Transfrontier Conservation area. The area receives much more precipitation than the rest of the country, with an average of 400mm per year. It is also cooler with approximate seasonal variations of between 10 and 30 °C. The area is mostly flat with sandy soils, which limits their water retaining ability.
The Etosha Pan in north-central Namibia lies adjacent to the Bushveld and is one of the most spectacular natural features. The Pan transforms from a dry-wasteland to a shallow lake which covers over 6,000 square kilometres in the wet season. It is an ecologically important area as it is vital to large numbers of birds and animals which gather from the surrounding savannah.
The Bushveld area is demarcated as part of the Angolan Mopane woodlands ecoregion.
The Kalahari Desert, shared with South Africa and Botswana, is widely regarded as Namibia’s best known geographical feature. Its environments range from hyper-arid sandy desert to areas which are outside of the definition of a common desert, such as the Succulent Karoo which is home to over 5,000 species of plants. Almost half of these succulents are endemic; and one third of the succulents in the world are found in the Karoo.
The productivity of this desert is as a result of its stable precipitation and therefore does not receive droughts regularly. The area is technically a desert but it receives regular winter rains which provide sufficient moisture. Some of the main features of the Kalahari are inselbergs, or isolated mountains, which house organisms which aren’t adapted to life in the surrounding desert system.