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The River Basin
Climate and Weather
Water Quality
Ecology & Biodiversity
 Aquatic Ecology
 Building Blocks
 Aquatic Habitats
In the Basin
 Life in Aquatic Ecosystems
 Factors Affecting Aquatic Ecosystems



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Aquatic Habitats in the Basin  


The Kunene River flows south from the Angola high plateau towards the border with Namibia. Reaching Namibia, the river turns west forming the border between the two countries until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. Here the river forms the Kunene River Mouth.

The upper reaches in Angola are relatively steep, while the middle section forms floodplain habitats. Along the border between Angola and Namibia, the river is characterised by a steep, narrow channel with fast flowing currents and numerous rapids.

Elevation profile along the Kunene River.
Source: AHT GROUP AG 2010
( click to enlarge )

The Kunene River is one of the few permanent rivers in this region. It is about 1 000 kilometers long, with a catchment area of 107 000 km² and an annual average flow at its mouth into the Atlantic of 5 500 Mm³. The water volume is mainly determined by the volume of rainfall in the upper reaches of the catchment, which runs off the central upland of Angola and into the Kunene and its tributaries there. These are:

  • Que River,
  • Kalonga River,
  • Chitanda River,
  • Mucope River, and
  • Kaculuvar River.

The riverine vegetation is green, particularly in contrast to the surrounding arid environment in the Lower Kunene, and birdlife is rich.

Where the river forms the border between Angola and Namibia, it flows through dry areas and there are no permanent tributaries. The Otjindjangi River is an ephemeral tributary in the Kaokoveld. The Kunene finally reaches the northern Namib Desert, one of the driest places on Earth, where it flows through sand dunes and into the ocean.


Wetlands and floodplain habitats exist along the Middle Kunene River in Angola, but not in the Lower Kunene along the border.

For further information refer to the section about Wetlands.

The Kunene seen from above, Kaokoland.
Source: © Ostby 2007
( click to enlarge )
Kunene River habitat.
Source: Khayat 2008
( click to enlarge )


There are no significant permanent natural lakes in the Kunene River basin, but a number of storage dams serving different purposes can be found, including water retention structures for irrigation purposes. Since the 1950s several larger Dams were built along the river. These are:

  • Gove Dam,
  • Matala Weir,
  • Calueque Weir, and
  • Ruacana Weir.

The Ruacana Hydropower Station, close to the Ruacana falls, is located in Namibia.

170 km downstream from Ruacana is the site of the planned Baynes Hydropower Project. This will create a reservoir with an area of almost 58 km² when full.


The Kunene River mouth forms an estuary, where it flows into the Atlantic. It is a biodiversity hotspot in this remote and isolated area. Several species of water birds live here. In times of low river flow, the habitat is reduced to only 125 ha and small strips of riparian vegetation along the banks and small islands. The Kunene River mouth is an important staging and feeding area which supports migratory birds and is recognised as an Important Bird Area.

The Kunene River Mouth Coastal Wetland lies between the Iona National Park in Angola and the Skeleton Coast Park in Namibia.




Explore the sub-basins of the Kunene River

Video Interviews about the integrated and transboundary management of the Kunene River basin

Explore the interactions of living organisms in aquatic environments

Examine how the hydrologic cycle moves water through and around the earth