Geographic map of Eritrea
Eritrea is a state located in the northern part of the Horn of Africa, bordering Sudan to the west, Ethiopia to the south and Djibouti to the southeast.
The east and northeast of the country have a long coastline on the Red Sea directly opposite Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The archipelago of the Dahlak Islands and some islands close to the Hanish Islands are part of Eritrea.
Eritrea has a total area of 121,320 km² and a population (as of 2020) of 3,546,000 inhabitants.
The capital of Eritrea is Asmara with a population of 963,000 (as of 2020).
Eritrea is a country located in the Horn of Africa bordering the Red Sea.
From a geographical point of view it can be divided into two large regions.
The first is the northernmost one which includes Oculé-Cusai and Amasien. There are the plateau north of Cheren, the Bogos and Beni-Amer, the Barca and Anseba rivers. This region is bordered to the south by the Mareb and Tecassé rivers, which will change their names respectively to Gasc and Setit before flowing into the Atbara river, a tributary of the Nile. This region has a mild climate, thick vegetation and easily arable land.
The second area is the southern one, with much more arid plateaus that descend towards the Red Sea, a torrid climate near the sea and very high humidity.
Furthermore, from a morphological point of view Eritrea can also be divided into four different regions with profoundly different physical characteristics: the coastal plain, the western plateau, the north-western hilly area and the lowland area:
– The coastal area extends for over a thousand kilometers and here, also due to the high temperatures, the territory is arid and dry. Outside the sandy and arid coastline is the Dahlac Archipelago and related fishing grounds.
– The plateau, the most populated part of the country due to the rich vegetation and climate, rises to the west of the coastal plain with an altitude between 1 880 and 2 400 meters above sea level.
– The plains are bordered to the west by the Barca river and to the north by the Setit river, i.e. the terminal part of the Tacazzè river
The highest point of the country is represented by Mount Soira, located south of Asmara, which rises 2,989 meters above the sea level.
As far as the hydrographic structure in Eritrea is concerned, the watercourses have a seasonal nature; the major ones are the Mareb, the Barca and the Anseba, in addition to the terminal part of the Tacazzè which flow towards the Sudan, and the minor ones Falkat, Laba and Alighede which instead flow towards the Red Sea.
Eritrea’s climate is tropical desert on the coast and the eastern lowlands, mild semi-arid in the mountain range, and tropical semi-arid in the southwest. From June to September, the country is influenced by the southwest monsoon from neighboring Ethiopia, which brings some rain, especially in the central-southern inland area.
On the coastal strip overlooking the Red Sea, the climate is desert and hot all year round.
In Massawa, in winter, from December to March, it’s hot: daytime temperatures hover around 30 degrees. Summer from May to September is oppressive, with daytime temperatures around 40 degrees (but with peaks of 45 °C) and the humidity of the sea which aggravates the feeling of heat.
From October to April there may be some rain, usually not abundant, but the amount of sunshine is good. In summer some cloud bodies pass and rare rains occur, as part of the southwest monsoon. During the year, 185 mm (7.2 in) of rain fall.
On the coast the sun shines all year round, however, as mentioned, some cloud bodies can pass even in summer.
On the southern part of the coast, in Assab (or Asseb) the climate is similar, but it is even more arid: in a year, just 75 millimeters of rain falls.
In the Dahlak Archipelago, summer temperatures are a little lower than on the coast, but the high humidity makes the heat unbearable.
The sea in Eritrea is warm all year round: the temperature ranges from 25 degrees in January to over 30 degrees in the summer months, when the Red Sea becomes one of the warmest seas in the world.
In the inland areas of the center, in the Danakil depression, where salt lakes and salt mines are located, the climate is very hot all year round, with temperatures around 40 degrees for most of the year, and a little lower in winter .
In the mountainous belt that crosses the central part of Eritrea from north to south (zone 2 on the map) the climate is mild due to the altitude, and it is also moderately rainy, at least in the centre-south, while in the northernmost part it is desertic. The highest peak, Emba Soira, reaches 3,000 meters and is located in the south.
In the capital, Asmara (or Asmera), the climate is very pleasant due to the altitude (2,300 metres). Daytime temperatures are around 22/24 °C in winter, and 25 °C from March to June, then drop a little in July and August, which are the only very rainy months. Night temperatures are cool in summer, very cool or even cold in winter.
During the year, about 500 mm (21 in) of rain fall, with almost no rain from October to March, some brief showers from April to June and also in September, and as mentioned, two rainy months, July and August.
The amount of sunshine is excellent from October to February, good in spring, scarce in July and August. All in all, the climate in Asmara is good from October to May, and probably the best months are October and November.
Some mountainous areas north-east of Asmara have more rain and therefore greener: there are even forests.
In the western part of Eritrea, on the other hand, the climate is desert in the north, and semi-desert or semi-arid in the south, where some rains arrive from June to September, linked to the summer monsoon.
In Agordat (or Ak’ordat), located in the central-southern part, at an altitude of 600 metres, 260 mm (10 in) of rain fall per year, concentrated from June to September. The temperature is high in winter, with more than 30 degrees even in January, but with fairly cool nights; the heat becomes torrid in spring, reaching around 39/40 °C in April and May, while it decreases with the arrival of the monsoon, but at the price of an increase in humidity. Between mid-September and November the torrid heat returns, even if a little less intense than in spring (with highs around 35/37 °C).
In Agordat the sun shines regularly in the long dry season, while here too the hours of sunshine decrease in summer, although less than in Asmara.
In the south-west, the landscape remains arid, but the summer rains are even more abundant, exceeding 600 mm (24 in) per year, allowing the survival of a greater quantity of shrubs and trees.
Furthermore, from time to time, the extreme south of Eritrea can be affected by a tropical cyclone from the Arabian Sea, but more rarely and with lower intensity than in Somalia and Yemen, because cyclones tend to weaken when they enter the Gulf of Aden. However, occasionally the remnants of a cyclone can arrive here, bringing heavy rains, as happened with Tropical Storm 1A in May 1984, and Cyclone Sagar in May 2018.
Cyclones form from May to December, and are more frequent at the beginning of the period (May-June), and at the end (October-December).
The eastern landscape of Eritrea is characterized by acacia thickets of different species, shrubs and dense scrub, semi-desert vegetation, riverine vegetation and mangroves. In the highland region, juniper (Juniperus procera) and wild olive (Olea africana) prevail, as well as various species of acacia. Numerous eucalyptus plantations have been introduced in degraded areas. The Semenawi Bahri (Green Belt) is located northeast of Asmara, around the village and Filfil Valley, and is home to the last remaining mixed tropical forest of Eritrea. Located between 900 and 2,400 m above sea level, it extends from north to south for about 20 km. The western landscape is mainly composed of wooded savannahs, shrub areas, woods and grasslands with herbaceous plants (such as Aristida). From this area comes about 50% of the firewood that covers the needs of the population of Asmara, the cause of worrying deforestation. Among the species present are the dum palm (Hyphaenea thebaica), widespread above all along the Barka River, the eucalyptus and several species of acacia. Other species are the baobab (Adansonia digitata), the Salvadora persica, used by the locals to obtain inexpensive toothbrushes, and the tamarisk (Tamarix aphylla). Among the endangered species are the frankincense tree (Boswellia papyrifera), the baobab and the tamarind (Tamarindus indica).
In Eritrea, forests cover 11.4 million hectares, providing firewood (the main source of available energy), gum arabic and grazing for livestock. According to the United Nations Program, in the period 1990-2010, they suffered a decrease of 5.5 percent.
Eritrea was once home to a wide variety of animals, including buffaloes, cheetahs, elephants, giraffes and lions. The destruction of the forests and thirty years of civil war, however, have caused the disappearance of many of them.
Eritrea’s surprising geographical variety is matched by an equally rich birdlife. As many as 560 bird species have been reported, including the blue barn swallow, a very rare bird. The remote and uninhabited Dahlak Islands and the sea that surrounds them attract numerous seabirds from all over the Red Sea and sometimes even from the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. About 109 different species have been counted on the islands, including the Arabian bustard and osprey. Eritrea is located along one of the busiest routes for migratory birds. Thus, hundreds of species of marine and coastal birds can be seen in spring and autumn in flight between the African continent and Arabia. Ostrich and Arabian bustard are common on the Bure Peninsula. Among the seabirds we point out gulls, terns and gannets, while many species of wading birds can be seen along the coast and on the islands. The lush tropical forests in the Semenawi Bahri area, north-east of Asmara, are home to a particularly rich birdlife, with species such as the white-cheeked turaco (a near-endemic species) and the trogon narina.
Common mammals include the Abyssinian hare, African wildcat, black-backed jackal, golden jackal, genets, ground squirrels, pale fox, Soemmering’s gazelle and warthog. Primates include vervet and hamadryas. Lions, greater kudus and Tora hartebeests (large African antelopes) have been sighted in the mountains of Gash-Barka province, north of Barentu. Dik diks and Dorcas gazelles can be seen on the Bure Peninsula. The last elephant colony in Eritrea lives in the areas between Omhajer and Antore, in the south-west of the country.
Major Eritrean marine ecosystems include coral reefs, seagrass meadows, and mangrove forests. There are at least 350 species of coral in the Red Sea. In Eritrea the coral colonies grow mainly in isolated groups which extend from the surface to a depth of 15-18 m; beyond this depth the coral registers a much more limited development. Located on the northern fringes of the mangrove range, Eritrea is home to at least three species, distributed along the coast and on the Dahlak Islands. Five species of sea turtles have been reported; the most common are the green turtle and the hawksbill turtle. Green turtles are often seen near the Dahlak Islands, as are dolphins and sharks. It seems that along the coasts of the Red Sea, in Eritrea and Sudan, live at least 4000-5000 specimens of dugong (also known as sea cow). In the Dahlak Islands it is forbidden to collect corals, shells and any plant species on the beaches and in the sea.
The most serious danger to Eritrea’s animal species is the loss or degradation of their habitat. Almost all of the country’s animals (except the baboon, ostrich and gazelle) are considered endangered within national borders. The Nubian ibex (probably disappeared here by now) is considered at serious risk of extinction at an international level. Concern has also been expressed in recent years about the country’s elephant colony. A century ago, the province of Gash-Barka was home to a large number of elephants, while it is estimated that there are no more than a hundred elephants.
Unfortunately there are no parks even if it has been proposed to place several islands of the Dahlak Archipelago under protection. Furthermore, a research was conducted in order to study in more depth the very delicate ecosystem of these islands.
In Eritrea, the three factors that had the greatest impact on the environment were war, famine and population growth. Agriculture still constitutes one of the main sources of subsistence or semi-subsistence, therefore the productivity of the land is of crucial importance for the survival of the population. The main problem is constituted by demographic growth, which imposes ever greater exploitation of the land and leads to intensive farming and cultivation systems. The practice of so-called slash-and-burn cultivation (in which entire green areas are burned to be able to plant seeds), in use in the south-western lowlands, has terribly harmful consequences for the flora. The destruction of forests poses a serious threat to the country. Less than 1% of Eritrea is forested, whereas a century ago 30% of the land was. During the war with Ethiopia, the warring armies cleared the forests to build shelters, trenches and various fortifications. A large amount of timber is also needed to build the hidmo, the traditional Eritrean house. In times of famine, trees are a precious source of nourishment for both men and animals, not to mention that they prevent soil erosion. Shortage of water resources and low land productivity are two direct consequences of forest destruction. Among the measures that have been decided to adopt to combat deforestation are a national reforestation program and the creation of a hundred protected areas throughout the country, but it will take a long time before the concrete results of such measures.