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Tanzania Geography

Situated in East Africa just south of the equator, mainland Tanzania lies between the area of the great lakes – Victoria, Tanganyika and Malawi (Niassa) – and the Indian Ocean. It contains a total area of 945,087 sq km (364,900 sq mi), including 59,050 sq km (22,799 sq mi) of inland water. Comparatively, the area occupied by Tanzania is slightly larger than twice the size of the state of California.

It is bounded on the north by Uganda and Kenya, on the east by the Indian Ocean, on the south by Mozambique and Malawi, on the southwest by Zambia, and on the west by Zaire, Burundi, and Rwanda, with a total boundary length of 4,826 km (2,999 mi), of which 1,424 km (885 mi) is coastline. Tanzania claims part of Lake Malawi, although its internationally recognised boundary is the eastern shore.

The section of the United Republic known as Zanzibar comprises the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba and all islets within 19 km (12 mi) of their coasts, as well as uninhabited Latham Island, 58 km (36 mi) south of Zanzibar Island. Zanzibar Island lies 35 km (22 mi) off the coast, and Pemba Island is about 40 km (25 mi) to the northeast. The former has an area of 1,657 sq km (640 sq mi), and the latter 984 sq km (380 sq mi).

Tanzania's capital city, Dar es Salaam, is located on the Indian Ocean coast.

Except for the islands and a coastal strip varying in width from 16-64 km (10-40 mi), Tanzania lies at an altitude of over 200 m (660 ft). A plateau averaging 900-1,800 m (3,000-6,000 ft) in height makes up the greater part of the country. Mountains are grouped in various sections. The Pare range is in the northeast, and the Kipengere Range is in the southwest. Kilimanjaro (5,895 m/19,340 ft), in the north, is the highest mountain in Africa.

On the borders are three large lakes Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world, exceeded only by Lake Superior; Tanganyika, second only to Lake Baykal as the deepest in the world; and Lake Malawi. Lakes within Tanzania include Natron, Eyasi, Manyara, and Rukwa.

Tanzania has few permanent rivers. During half the year, the central plateau has no running water, but in the rainy season, flooding presents a problem.

Two-thirds of Zanzibar Island, to the centre and the east, consists of low-lying coral country covered by bush and grass plains and is largely uninhabited except for fishing settlements on the east coast. The western side of the island is fertile and has several ridges rising above 60 m (200 ft). Masingini Ridge, at 119 m (390 ft), is the highest point on the island. The west and centre of Pemba Island consists of a flat-topped ridge about 9.5 km (6 mi) wide, deeply bisected by streams. Pemba is hilly, but its highest point is only 95 m (311 ft). Apart from the narrow belt of coral country in the east, the island is fertile and densely populated.

There are four main climatic zones

(1)the coastal area and immediate hinterland, where conditions are tropical, with temperatures averaging about 27°C (81°F), rainfall varying from 100-193 cm (40-76 in), and high humidity;

(2)the central plateau, which is hot and dry, with rainfall from 50-76 cm (20-30 in), although with considerable daily and seasonal temperature variations;

(3)the semitemperate highland areas, where the climate is healthy and bracing; and

(4)the high, moist lake regions. There is little seasonal variation in the Lake Victoria area, but the eastern sections average only 75-100 cm (30-40 in) of rain, while the western parts receive 200-230 cm (80-90 in). A small area north of Lake Niassa receives 250 cm (100 in) of rain. There are two rainy seasons in the north, from November to December and from March through May. In the south there is one rainy season, from November to March.

The climate on the islands is tropical, but the heat is tempered by sea breezes that are constant throughout the year, except during the rainy seasons. The seasons are well defined. From December to March, when the northeast monsoon blows, it is hot and comparatively dry. The heavy rains fall in April and May, and the lesser in November and December. It is coldest and driest from June to October, during the southwest monsoon.

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