Covering a total area of 581,730 km2, Botswana is the world’s 48th largest country. It is similar in size to Madagascar or France, it lies between latitudes 17° and 27°S, and longitudes 20° and 30°E.
The country is predominantly flat, tending toward gently rolling tableland. Botswana is dominated by the Kalahari Desert, which covers up to 70% of its land surface. The Okavango Delta, one of the world’s largest inland deltas, is in the northwest. The Makgadikgadi Pan, a large salt pan, lies in the north.
The Limpopo River Basin, the major landform of all of southern Africa, lies partly in Botswana, with the basins of its tributaries, the Notwane, Bonwapitse, Mahalapswe, Lotsane, Motloutse and the Shashe, located in the eastern part of the country. The Notwane provides water to the capital through the Gaborone Dam.
The Chobe River lies to the north, providing a boundary between Botswana and Namibia’s Zambezi Region. The Chobe River meets with the Zambezi River at a place called Kazungula (meaning a small sausage tree, a point where Sebitwane and his Makololo tribe crossed the Zambezi into Zambia).
Botswana has diverse areas of wildlife habitat. In addition to the delta and desert areas, there are grasslands and savannas, where blue wildebeest, antelopes, and other mammals and birds are found.
Northern Botswana has one of the few remaining large populations of the endangered African wild dog. Chobe National Park, found in the Chobe District, has the world’s largest concentration of African elephants. The park covers about 11,000 km2 (4,247 sq mi) and supports about 350 species of birds.
The Chobe National Park and Moremi Game Reserve (in the Okavango Delta) are major tourist destinations. Other reserves include the Central Kalahari Game Reserve located in the Kalahari-desert in Ghanzi District; Makgadikgadi Pans National Park and Nxai Pan National Park are in Central District in the Makgadikgadi Pan.
Mashatu Game Reserve is privately owned: located where the Shashe River and Limpopo River meet in eastern Botswana. The other privately owned reserve is Mokolodi Nature Reserve near Gaborone.
There are also specialised sanctuaries like the Khama Rhino Sanctuary (for rhinoceros) and Makgadikgadi Sanctuary (for flamingos). They are both located in Central District.
Botswana faces two major environmental problems: drought and desertification. The desertification problems predominantly stem from the severe times of drought in the country.
Three quarters of the country’s human and animal populations depend on groundwater due to drought. Groundwater use through deep borehole drilling has somewhat eased the effects of drought.
Surface water is scarce in Botswana and less than 5% of the agriculture in the country is sustainable by rainfall. In the remaining 95% of the country, raising livestock is the primary source of rural income.
Approximately 71% of the country’s land is used for communal grazing, which has been a major cause of the desertification and the accelerating soil erosion of the country.
Since raising livestock has proven to be profitable for the people of Botswana, they continue to exploit the land. The animal populations have continued to dramatically increase.
From 1966 to 1991, the livestock population has increased from 1.7 million to 5.5 million. Similarly, the human population has increased from 574,000 in 1971 to 1.5 million in 1995, nearly a 200% increase. “Over 50% of all households in Botswana own cattle, which is currently the largest single source of rural income.
Rangeland degradation or desertification is regarded as the reduction in land productivity as a result of overstocking and overgrazing, or as a result of veld product gathering for commercial use. Degradation is exacerbated by the effects of drought and climate change.”
Environmentalists report that the Okavango Delta is drying up due to the increased grazing of livestock. The Okavango Delta is one of the major semi-forested wetlands in Botswana and one of the largest inland deltas in the world; it is a crucial ecosystem to the survival of many animals.
The Department of Forestry and Range Resources has already begun to implement a project to reintroduce indigenous vegetation into communities in Kgalagadi South, Kweneng North and Boteti. Reintroduction of indigenous vegetation will help with the degradation of the land.
The United States Government has also entered into an agreement with Botswana, giving them $7 million US dollars to reduce Botswana’s debt by $8.3 million US dollars. The stipulation of the US reducing Botswana’s debt is that Botswana will focus on more extensive conservation of the land.
The United Nations Development Programme claims that poverty is a major problem behind the overexploitation of resources, including land, in Botswana. To help change this the UNDP joined in with a project started in the southern community of Struizendam in Botswana.
The purpose of the project is to draw from “indigenous knowledge and traditional land management systems”. The leaders of this movement are supposed to be the people in the community, to draw them in, in turn increasing their possibilities to earn an income and thus decreasing poverty.
The UNDP also stated that the government has to effectively implement policies to allow people to manage their own local resources and are giving the government information to help with policy development.