The Congo River

Traditional fisheries still thrive in the Congo River Basin, shown here in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa).

5. Description

At 2,920 miles in length, the Congo River is Africa’s second longest river, after the Nile. It’s second to the Amazon in terms of the volume of water it carries every second, in which the Congo River discharges 1.5 million cubic feet of water, according to Mongabay. It’s also the world’s deepest river, reaching depths of around 750 feet. The Congo River Basin, which covers 12 percent of the continent's landmass, is the largest river basin in Africa. It covers parts of nine countries, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and these are Zambia, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, the Central Africa Republic (CAR), Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). According the to Institute Water for Africa, much of Congo River’s catchment area is in the DRC, where it flows through the huge Congo Basin. The entire river’s catchment area is 3,730,474 square kilometers, and includes Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, and the the Central African Republic.

4. Historical Role

For thousands of years, humans have lived along the Congo River Basin. The famed Congo pygmies date back to 20,000 years ago, while the Bantu farmers migrated to the basin 5,000 years ago, according to World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Archaeologists have also encountered remains of the Ishongo people in the Congo River Basin and the Great Lakes of Central Africa, and these lived in such areas about 8,000 years ago. British explorer Henry Morton Stanley was a trailblazer among European explorers in the region, and Stanley navigated the Congo River from 1874 to 1877 as he mapped it and the regions beyond its banks.

3. Modern Significance

There are about 29 million people, who can be divided into 250 distinct indigenous groups, living in the Congo River Basin’s urban and forested areas today. These benefit to varying degrees either directly or indirectly from the basin. Subsistence agriculture is practiced along this basin, while forests provide raw materials for construction and fuel wood for heating and cooking. Within the Central Africa region, the Congo River has navigable waterways used to transport passengers and goods for trading. Locals also engage in fishing activities along this river, which has about 700 fish species. The Congo River also sustains diverse wildlife and plant species in the expansive Congo Forest beyond its banks.

2. Habitat

Eclectic rivers, rainforests, savannas, swamps, and flooded forests alike host arrays of habitats dotting the Congo River Basin. These habitats have 10,000 plant species (30 percent of which are unique to the Congo's ecosystems), 1,000 bird species, 400 mammalian species, 216 amphibian species, 280 reptilian species, 700 fish species (of which 80 percent are only found here), and 900 butterfly species. according to the WWF. Giraffes, elephants, buffaloes, chimpanzees, Bonobo monkeys, and gorillas are among the wildlife living in these habitats. The climate that sustains these habitats varies as much as the wildlife. The northern forests of the basin have a hot, harsh dry season which increases as one moves further away from the equator. The western area's forests have cooler dry season, and the coastal areas have tropical monsoon climates, such as can be seen in the Guinean Gulf. Rainfall and temperature in Central Africa along the Congo also vary considerably. The heaviest rains in the world, which amount to 10,000 millimeters annually, are experienced at the foot of Mount Cameroon. The central part of the basin and foothills of the mountain ranges near the Albertine Rift, meanwhile, receive 2,000 to 3,000 millimeters of rain yearly, while the dense forests experience 1,500 to 1,800 millimeters of precipitation annually. Annual mean temperatures in the lowland coastal areas are between 26 to 28 degrees Centigrade, while in the mountain regions the annual mean temperatures range between 19 and 24 degrees Centigrade.

1. Threats and Disputes

Threats to Congo River Basin's biodiversity are rife, ongoing, and even increasing. Rises in human populations have resulted in deforestation along the basin, as natural forests are converted to farmlands. Logging, bush meat hunting, civil conflicts, and mineral and oil exploration are other activities negatively impacting the forests in the basin. Species like gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants, and leopards are still also facing threats from bush hunters. Unlike many forests, the Congo River Basin forests are unique, as they generate 75 to 95 percent of their own rainfall, with the the remaining minority originating from outside of the basin, according to the WWF. That’s why if forest cover in the basin continues to be depleted by human activities, the quantity of rainfall generated would be reduced significantly, as tree-cover-dependent evaporation and transpiration are important parts of this rainmaking process. That would put at risk the millions of human inhabitants who depend on the forests for their lives and livelihoods, as well as the natural wildlife.


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