Geography of Democratic Republic of the Congo

By | April 2, 2021

As a major country in African continent according to shoefrantics, the Democratic Republic of the Congo extends over very different landscapes.

The Congo Basin with its tropical rainforests takes up around 60% of the country. It is bounded in all directions by mountain ranges between 500 and 1000 m high. In the south lies the Shaba or Katanga mountainous region, which is part of the Lundaschwelle.

In the south and east of the country, the mountain ranges with the Mitumba Mountains and the Kundelungu Mountains in the south and the Central African Sill with the Virunga volcanoes in the east rise to medium to high mountains. They reach average heights of up to 1200 m and are rich in mineral resources such as copper and uranium. The highest point is the Margherita Peak in the Ruwenzori Mountains at 5109 m on the border with Uganda.

Flora and fauna

According to the different geological, topographical and climatic conditions, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is characterized by diverse vegetation.

After Brazil and Indonesia, the country is the country with the largest contiguous areas of tropical rainforest worldwide. Highly complex ecosystems and diverse biodiversity give the natural areas of the DR Congo unique manifestations.

60 million hectares of primeval forest belong to the DR Congo. Many species are not yet covered by the great diversity of species. Eight percent of the world’s fresh water reserves are stored in the Congo Basin. In the tropical lowlands of the Congo Basin you can find the classic rainforest with its shallow soils and annual rainfall of 3000 to 4000 millimeters.

In addition to tropical hardwoods such as mahogany and teak, there are large areas with oil palms, rubber trees (Heves Brasiliensis) and tea and coffee plants. These are overgrown plantation crops that were abandoned during the political disputes of the past decades.

Flora and fauna are of great diversity and especially in the rainforest areas you can find countless plants and animals. After the Amazon and Indonesia, the Congo Basin has the third largest population of tropical rainforests with a rich biodiversity. Then there are the species-rich mountain rainforests in the east of the country with the Ruwenzori Mountains / Virunga National Park with its chimpanzees and well-known mountain gorillas.

Fertile soils of volcanic origin, a mild climate, combined with sufficient and well-distributed annual rainfall, are favorable growth factors for a diverse flora and ideal habitats for a diverse fauna. So far, for example, over 1000 different bird species and 11000 different plants have been recorded. Due to the uncertain political situation and lack of financial resources, many plant and animal species could not yet be finally identified.

Unfortunately, a large proportion of the once widespread animals such as okapi, elephants, hippos and rhinos were victims of poaching and war violence. Of the 8,000 mountain gorillas that were still counted in 1960, a maximum of 1,000 survived. Although there has now been a slight increase in population, the mountain gorillas are still threatened with extinction.

The dry savannahs in the north and south of the country are ideal grazing grounds for cattle. Even the colonial rulers set up huge cattle ranches here. This was only possible through the spread of the TseTse-resistant Ndama cattle. In the wake of the political turmoil, the number of cattle has fallen from 1.2 million to an estimated 180,000 today. However, the situation has been slowly improving for several years.

The designation of ecological protection zones, which later became national parks, began as early as the colonial era. The first national park was established in 1928.

On the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, some protected areas and national parks have been declared World Natural Heritage by UNESCO. Today these parks are on the UNESCO list of endangered world heritage.

Five of the seven designated national parks are UNESCO World Heritage Sites:

  • Salonga National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
  • Bombo-Lumene Reserve
  • Kahuzi-Biega National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
  • Virunga National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
  • Okapi Reserve (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
  • Garamba National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
  • Upemba National Park

GIZ’s work in the DR Congo focuses on the “ Conservation of Biodiversity and Sustainable Forest Management ” sector.

Natural resources

Geologically, the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo belongs to the African Rift. Raw materials have been mined here for over 100 years. The “copper belt” runs parallel to the Zambian border. Here, in the province of Katanga, copper, coltan, cobalt, tin etc. are found and are now being mined on a large scale. The Kivu provinces join to the north. Here gold, diamonds, silver, coltan and also petroleum are found in many places. The Eastern Congolese wars had an important driver in the greed for raw materials.

In the province of Kasai-Oriental mainly diamonds are mined. The often young diamond diggers do this under the most difficult, dangerous and often inhuman conditions.

In 1950 the provincial capital Mbuji Mayi had less than 20,000 residents, but since the diamond rush it has grown to over 2 million.

Tropical rainforest in danger

The second largest rainforest region in the world is located in the Congo

The second largest rainforest region in the world is located in the Congo

The climate change has a major impact on the ecological system in the entire Congo Basin. The climatic development in the region has a direct impact on the climate in Central Africa and worldwide.

Large areas of the tropical rainforest are at risk. Irregular amounts of precipitation in times of little rain and downright dry periods threaten the forest. Especially the 40 to 50 meter high “giants of the jungle” dry up relatively quickly. The lack of shade in the low trees has a very negative effect on the flora and fauna. Extreme torrential rain cause the rainforest rivers to have very different water levels. There is erosion and a loss of soil quality.

The anarchic political situation of the Mobutu regime and the subsequent unstable situation since the last wars cause two opposing developments:

Systematic deforestation has hardly taken place so far, as political uncertainty has made this impossible. This has protected the rainforest. At the same time, the world’s second largest rainforest is threatened by uncontrolled logging. The Congolese rainforest is increasingly becoming a target area for large Asian, American and European timber companies.