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Belgium

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BELGIUM is a highly industrialized, relatively small country in northwest Europe with a short coastline on the the North Sea. It has three topographical regions: the elevated and forested Ardennes plateau, which situated in the southeast near the border with France, Luxembourg, and Germany; the rolling, central fertile plains; and the the North Sea coastal plain. The Ardennes plateau is an area of moorland, woodlands, and forests, valued for recreational purposes as well as forestry. The central plains are a fertile agricultural region crossed by Belgium’s principal rivers, the Schelde and Meuse. The coastal plain is low-lying, reaching only about 20 meters or 65 feet above sea level at its highest point.

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The Ardennes plateau is rocky with poor soils and has an average height of about 457 meters or 1,500 feet. The highest peak in Belgium, Mount Botrange (694 meters or 2,277 feet), is located in this area near the eastern border with Germany. Most of the the North Sea coastline marked by a narrow belt of huge dunes that are among the largest in Europe. These are carefully managed to preserve marram grass and encourage the growth of other vegetation, including trees, wherever possible. These stabilize the dunes, which are important in protecting the low-lying farmland behind the coast, including a small area of polders - low-lying fields drained by canals on land that reclaimed from the sea. The amount of polder land is small compared to that in the Netherlands, but the reclaimed fields have highly fertile soils.

The climate is generally warm to hot in summer and cool or cold in winter, with the greatest extremes of the temperature experienced in the Ardennes where there is snow on higher ground in the winter. The coastal regions have a more moderate climate, and rainfall may occur at any time during the year. A well-used canal network links the main rivers, and altogether Belgium has nearly 1,600 kilometers or 1,000 miles of navigable waterways, many of which can be used by large boats. Antwerp is situated 80 kilometers or 50 miles from the open sea on the River Schelde, and yet it is one of Europe's busiest ports and the second largest city in the country. Belgium is a densely populated country with few natural resources.

Agriculture, which uses about 45 percent of the land for cultivation or rearing of livestock, employs only 3 percent of the workforce: about one-fifth of the country covered with forests, but these wooded areas mainly used for recreation. The metal-working industry, originally based on the small mineral deposits in the Ardennes, is the most important industry, and in the northern cities new textile industries are producing carpets and clothing. Nearly all raw materials now imported through the main port of Antwerp. Two-thirds of Belgium’s electricity needs are supplied by nuclear power although an alternative, renewable energy sources are being explored.

The country is at present reliant on imports of petroleum, gas, and coal. Politically, Belgium divided into three federal regions: Flanders, in the north, the capital city, Brussels, and Wallonia in the south. The people divided into two linguistic groups - Flemish or Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speaking Walloons. The Flemings live mainly in Flanders and the Walloons in Wallonia although Brussels has a mixed population. There are three officially recognized languages in Belgium - Dutch, French, and German.

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