Okavango facts

It is the only perennial river in Africa that flows eastward without reaching the ocean.

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Overview of the Okavango River Basin

The Okavango River Basin

The Okavango River

The Okavango river basin covers a hydrologically active area of approximately 323 192 km2 shared by three countries in southern Africa: Angola, Namibia and Botswana. The Okavango River is the fourth longest river system in southern Africa, running for 1,100 km from central Angola, as the Kubango, through Namibia to the Kalahari in Botswana. The river rises in the headwaters of the Cuito and Cubango tributaries in the highland plateau of Angola at an elevation of 1780 metres. It derives its principal flow from 120,000 km² of sub-humid and semiarid rangeland in Cuito-Cubango province of Angola before concentrating its flow along the margins of Namibia and Angola and finally spilling into the Okavango fan or ‘delta’ at an elevation of 980 metres. Several rivers become one as the water moves south and east, branching again when it reaches and ends in the Okavango Delta, one of the largest freshwater inland wetlands on the planet. The river delivers about 10 cubic kilometres of surface flow into the Delta system per annum.

Geological controls on the margin of the fan determine the eventual flow of remaining
water into a set of evaporation pans in the Kalahari Desert. The Okavango Basin could also be delineated to include a substantial area of fossil rivers that are not hydrologically active but nevertheless a part of the topographic basin.

Map of the Okavango River Basin

The Okavango waters are clear and contain few dissolved chemicals, solutes or pollutants. The riparian landscapes along many of the waterways remain relatively unchanged with natural plant and aquatic life remaining healthy. The river supports people, their livestock and a myriad of livelihoods ranging from artisanal fisheries to small scale agriculture. The Okavango Delta, a unique but fragile ecosystem, is a significant source of tourism income and cultural value to the people of Botswana.

The Okavango River and Delta are together an example of a complex flood pulse cycle that feeds and supports ecological and social systems in the southern Africa region. In terms of contribution to the average annual inflows to the Okavango basin system, there are substantial differences among the three countries, with Angola contributing by far the most. The Basin is home to about 600 000 people and has only three major urban centres: Menongue in Angola, Rundu in Namibia and Maun in Botswana.
Comparison with other river basins

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