Eritrea, Land and Resources
Eritrea covers an area of 121,144 sq km (46,774 sq mi). Its topography consists of four types of land surface: the Red Sea coastal plain; the south central plateau highland, which forms the core of the nation; the hill country of the north and midwest; and the broad western plains. The Red Sea coast stretches more than 1,000 km (600 mi), and it is from this body of water that the country derived its name (Erythraea, Greek for “red”). The narrow coastal plain receives little rainfall and is extremely hot. The Denakil Depression in the southeast falls below sea level and has been the site of some of the highest temperatures recorded on earth. To the west, the coastal plain rises sharply to the highland plateau, where altitudes range from 1,830 to 2,440 m (6,000 to 8,000 ft) above sea level and annual rainfall is significantly higher than at the coast. The hill country north and west of the core plateau ranges from about 760 to 1,370 m (about 2,500 to 4,500 ft) above sea level, and it generally receives less rainfall than the plateau. The broad plains lie to the west of the Baraka River and north of the Setit River.
A number of rivers drain the plateau and highland regions. The Mereb (or Gash), the Baraka, and the Anseba flow from the plateau west into Sudan, while the Falkat, Laba, and Alighede flow from the northern highlands to the Red Sea.
Eritrea’s resources have supported a largely agricultural way of life. The nation possesses potentially valuable potash deposits and possibly gold, iron, and petroleum, but exploration and exploitation of its mineral resources were severely hindered by three decades of war.
Eritrea’s environment suffers from frequent droughts and from the effects of the country’s decades-long war of independence. Only 22 percent (1990-1998) of the people in Eritrea have access to safe drinking water. Much of the country’s highland forests have been destroyed for fuelwood, and only 2.8 percent (1995) of Eritrea’s total land area is forested. Marginal lands have been cultivated and overgrazed, leading to soil erosion and desertification. The Eritrean administration has planted millions of trees in recent years to help stop erosion and desertification. In addition, the administration has designated 5 percent (1997) of the country’s total land area as protected. The government has ratified international environmental agreements pertaining to biodiversity, climate change, desertification, and endangered species.