The Republic of Malaŵi is a land-locked country at the southern end of the Great Rift Valley dominated by Lake Malaŵi (formerly Lake Nyasa) and is bounded by Tanzania to the north and north-east, by Mozambique to the east, south and south-west, and by Zambia to the west. The country is 860 km long from north to south (9°S to 17°S) and 90 to 200 km wide, giving a land area of 94,276 km2, with an additional 24,000 km2 of lake area. The whole country, including the lake, is drained by the Shire (pronounced Shirry) River, which flows southwards to join the Zambezi in Mozambique. Much of the country consists of high plateaux at around 1,000 m above sea level with numerous isolated highlands rising to a maximum of 3,000 m. Most of the country is intensively farmed (maize, tobacco and tea) and with over 9 million people it has one of the highest population densities in Africa.
Malaŵi has a tropical continental climate with maritime influences from the Mozambique Channel. Mean annual temperatures in plateaux areas (from 1,000 to 1,800 m) vary from 15 to 21°C, with frosts occasional above 1,800 m in the dry season, whereas just prior to the rains, daily maxima in the low-lying Shire Valley can exceed 42°C. Temperatures rise considerably from September until the onset of the rains in November. Thus, the year can be divided into three seasons: warm and wet (November-April), dry and cool (May-August) and dry and hot (September-October). Mean annual rainfall varies considerably in different parts of the country, from c700 mm to just over 3,000 mm.
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