The Democratic Republic of Congo

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THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC), formerly Zaire, is situated in west-central Africa. It is a vast country with a short coastline of only 40 kilometers or 25 miles on the Atlantic Ocean. There is a constant arable variety in the country’s geography, from the rainforests on the western border to the huge central plain and mountains in the northeast, east, and south. However, the Congo (Zaire) river basin dominates the land and reaches from the country’s center to mountains or plateaux on all sides. In the east, the Ruwenzori Mountains overlook the lakes in the Great Rift Valley.

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The country has an enormously rich fauna and flora with many trees (oil palms, rubber, teak, ebony, cedar, mahogany, and red­wood) and diverse wildlife (lions, elephants, gorillas, giraffes, leopards and birds, reptiles and insects). In the central region, the climate is hot and wet all year, but there are well-marked wet and dry seasons elsewhere.

The capital, Kinshasa, on the Congo River’s southern bank, was founded as a trading depot in the late 19th century. Besides being the country’s cultural and administrative center, it has a strong manufacturing base, producing food, paper, chemicals and plastics, textiles, wood, and construction products. Much of the population still occupied in subsistence farming. Cassava is the primary subsistence crop, and coffee, tea, cocoa beans, rubber, and palms are grown for export. The country has substantial mineral resources, particularly cobalt (around 65 percent of the world’s deposits), copper, uranium, gold, and diamonds exported.

Other natural resources include silver, iron ore, and coal, while offshore oil is an important asset. There is great potential for hydroelectricity, but, as yet, this has not been exploited.

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Nearly the entire country is within a region known as the Congo River Basin, further divided into four major geographic regions within the Democratic Republic of Congo. The core region is the Central Congo Basin. Depression is often referred to as the cuvette. The northern uplands and southern uplands are high plains on either side of the cuvette, and along the eastern border, there are high mountains associated with the Great Rift Valley (or East African Rift).

The Democratic Republic of Congo claims a very narrow border of coastline (37 kilometers/23 miles) along the Atlantic Ocean, north of the Congo River.

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On January 17, 2002, lava from Nyiragongo flowed on the eastern and southern flanks of the volcano at a rate of 1.2 to 1.8 kilometers/hour (0.7 to 1 mile/hour) toward Goma. As lava several feet thick flowed down city streets, four hundred thousand people were evacuated for three days and fourteen villages were damaged by the lava flows.

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