Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Limpopo River arises in the interior of Africa, and flows generally eastwards towards the Indian ocean. It is around 1,600 kilometres long (or 1 770km /1 100 miles according to another source). The Limpopo is the second largest river in the region. The Limpopo river flows in a great arc, first zig-zagging northeast and north, then turning east and finally southeast.
Then it serves as a border for about 640 kilometres, separating South Africa on the southeast bank from Botswana in the northwest and Mozambique. There are several rapids as the river falls off Southern Africa's interior escarpment.
The main tributary is the Olifants/Letaba river (Elephant River). The port town of Xai-xai is on the river near the mouth. Below the Olifants, the river is permanently navigable to the sea, though a sandbar prevent large ships' access except at high tide.
The waters of the Limpopo are indeed sluggish and silty. Rainfall is seasonal and unreliable. In dry years, the upper parts of the river flow for 40 days or less. The upper catchment area is arid, in the Kalahari desert, but becomes ever less arid further down the river. The lower reaches are fertile and heavily populated. Floods after the rainy season are an occasional problem in the lower reaches, most notably the catastrophic floods in February 2000.
At the north-eastern corner of South Africa the river touches the greatest conservation area. 14 Million people live in the Limpopo river basin, an area around 413,000 km2. Water demand exceeds supply. Most of the people living in the Limpopo river basin are poor, and starvation and malnutrition are not uncommon during drought or crop failure.
Vasco da Gama was the first European to sight the river, when one of his expeditions anchored off the mouth in 1498. However, there has been human habitation in the region since time immemorial - sites in the Makapans Valley near Mokopane contain Australopithecus fossils from 3.5 million years ago.
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