A river is a large body of water that flows over land in a long channel. Most rivers begin high in the mountains or hills. A river's source may be a melting snowfield or glacier (although in Namibia we generally rule these 2 options out!), a spring, or an overflowing lake. As a river flows in its channel, it receives more water from streams and other rivers, and from rainfall. At the end of a river is its mouth, where the water empties into a larger river, a lake, or an ocean.
Rivers vary greatly in size. The landscape in Namibia is crisscrossed by a number of rivers, and some of them are so small they dry up during hot, dry seasons for several years as a result of erratic rainfall. After heavy rains, these dry river courses are turned into raging torrents, racing down to the sea where they discharge their muddy load. The underground water supply is recharged by these floods, providing a vital source of moisture for trees and animals during the dry periods. The majority of rivers in Namibia are ephemeral, flowing for a short time, sometimes only hours, after periods of high rainfall.
Rivers are also valuable to agriculture because their valleys and plains provide especially fertile land for growing crops. Farmers in dry regions use river water to irrigate their land. The only perennial rivers in Namibia are shared with its neighbours; they are the Orange, Kunene, Okavango, Zambezi and Chobe. Each of these functions as a national frontier with limited irrigation potential. Furthermore, their waters are capable of enriching only the extreme northern and southern regions.A number of other rivers flow intermittently and contain surface water only after the coming of rains and floods. These include the Fish River, the westward flowing Swakop and Kuiseb, the shallower and eastward-flowing Omuramba, Omatako and Epukiro. There is good ground water though, beneath and around the riverbeds. What moisture remains above ground resides in shallow clay or limestone depressions, most of them in the sandveld semi-desert and some of quite prodigious dimensions. The largest of these is the world-famous Etosha Pan.
All of the rivers crossing the Namib Desert, including The Orange and Kunene, serve as 'linear oasis', allowing plants and animals not adapted to hyper-arid environments to thrive in the desert. Species vary from upstream to downstream in each river and from the southern rivers to the northern ones. In the northern rivers, elephant and rhino use the rivers for food and water, but are not restricted to a single water course. Mammal species range from minute three-striped mice and tree rats to the larger gemsbok, steenbok, jackal, fox and hyena. Klipspringer and baboon can be the centre of extensive attention in the Kuiseb, whilst giraffe and elephant have been the focus of attention in Hoanib. The towering clay castles of the Hoarusib River, dwarf desert-adapted elephant in their search for water.
The Chobe River forms the northern boundary of the Chobe National Park in Botswana and the higher reaches of this river are known as the Linyanti.
If it wasn't for the Fish River carving out a huge gorge for millions of years, there would be no Fish River Canyon.
The Koichab River flows westwards at the southern end of the Namib Desert sand sea. Dunes have blocked its surface flow to the sea and its episodic floodwaters are trapped in the Koichab Pan.
Rising in the Khomas Hochland near Windhoek, the Kuiseb River is a 'linear oasis', an ephemeral river that crosses the Namib Desert just like the Tsauchab River, but no longer reaches the sea, as it has been blocked by the northward movement of dunes
In the north of the country, the mighty Kunene River forms part of Namibia's border with Angola for about 325km (202miles).
Rising in the central Angolan highlands, and east of the Kunene River, is the Kwando River, which forms the boundary between Namibia, Angola and Zambia.
The Kavango River (also ofter called the Okavango River) flows for some 1,600km (1,000 miles) south-eastwards from where it rises in Angola, (where it is known as the Kubango) forming part of Namibia's northern border, (approx 350km).
Just north of Henties Bay, the ephemeral Omaruru River reaches the sea, usually only with subsurface water.
Geological features such as mountains and rivers, play their part the world over in the formation of natural barriers and boundaries between neighbouring country's, therefore defining obvious international borders.
Traversing the Namib-Naukluft Park, the Swakop River has two major dams in its upper reaches, that supply water to Windhoek.
The Tsauchab River rises in the Naukluft and Tsaris Mountains and flows through the Sesriem Canyon and beyond.
South of Solitaire, is the relatively unknown Tsondab River. It comes as no surprise to learn that it seldom rains along the lower reaches of this river, and as with its more famous counterpart, The Tsauchab River, each has its own end vlei or pan, Sossus
The Ugab River forms the border between the West Coast Recreation Area and the Skeleton Coast Park, and as with most other ephemeral Namib rivers, large and small, the Ugab flows through that park.
The Uniab, an ephemeral river, is perhaps best-known as desert-adapted elephant country. Black rhino, giraffe, Hartmann's mountain zebra, oryx, springbok and kudu, also visit the Uniab riverbed.
In the far north-east of Namibia, the incredible Zambezi River serves as the frontier between Namibia and Zambia, before plunging over the mighty Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.
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