Algeria (French Algérie), officially Democratic and Popular Republic
of Algeria, republic of western North Africa; bounded on the north by the
Mediterranean Sea; on the east by Tunisia and Libya; on the south by Niger,
Mali, and Mauritania; and on the west by Morocco. Its total area is 2,381,741
sq km (919,595 sq mi).
II. Land and Resources
Algeria has four main physical regions, which extend east to west across
the country in parallel zones. In the north, along the Mediterranean coast
and extending inland for 80 to 190 km (50 to 120 mi), is the Tell. The
region consists of a narrow and discontinuous coastal plain backed by the
mountainous area of the Tell Atlas, a range of the Atlas Mountains system.
The numerous valleys of this region contain most of Algeria's arable land.
The country's principal river, the Chelif (725 km/ 450 mi long), rises
in the Tell Atlas and flows to the Mediterranean Sea; no permanent streams
are found south of the Tell. The next region, lying to the south and southwest,
is the High Plateau, a highland region of level terrain. Several basins
here collect water during rainy periods, forming large, shallow lakes;
as these dry they become salt flats, called chotts, or shotts. South of
this lie the mountains and massifs of the Saharan Atlas. The fourth region,
comprising more than 90 percent of the country's total area, is the great
expanse of the Algerian Sahara. Much of the terrain is covered by gravel,
although the Grand Erg Oriental and the Grand Erg Occidental are vast regions
of sand dunes. In the south, rising above the desert, are the Ahaggar Mountains,
which culminate in Mount Tahat (3,003 m/9,852 ft), the highest peak in
The Tell region in the north has a typical Mediterranean climate, with
warm, dry summers and mild, rainy winters. This is the most humid area
of Algeria, with an annual precipitation ranging from 400 to 1,000 mm (16
to 39 in). The mean summer and winter temperatures are 25° C (77°
F) and 11° C (52° F), respectively. During the summer an exceedingly
hot, dry wind, the sirocco (known locally as the Chehili), blows north
from the Sahara. To the south the climate becomes increasingly dry. Annual
precipitation in the High Plateau and Saharan Atlas ranges from about 200
to 400 mm (about 8 to 16 in). The Sahara is a region of daily temperature
extremes, wind, and great aridity; annual rainfall is less than 130 mm
(5 in) in all places.
B. Natural Resources
Most of the natural wealth of Algeria lies in its sizable mineral deposits,
notably crude petroleum, natural gas, phosphates, and iron ore. Other minerals
include coal, lead, and zinc. The arable land comprises only about 3 percent
of the total area and is located mainly in the valleys and plains of the
C. Plants and Animals
The northern sections of Algeria have suffered from centuries of deforestation and overgrazing. Remnants of forests exist in a few areas of the higher Tell and Saharan Atlas. Trees include pines, Atlas cedar, and various oaks, including cork oak. Lower slopes are bare or covered with a scrub vegetation of juniper and other shrubs. Much of the High Plateau is barren, but tracts of steppe vegetation containing esparto grass and brushwood are present. Plant life in the Sahara is widely scattered and consists of drought-resistant grasses, acacia, and jujube trees.
The relatively sparse vegetation of the country can support only a limited
wildlife population. Scavengers, such as jackals, hyenas, and vultures,
are found in most regions. Fewer antelope, hares, gazelles, and reptiles
are also present.
Rich soils are rare in Algeria. The most fertile lands, located in the Tell region, nearest the coast, are relatively poor in humus and have suffered from overcultivation. The plains have considerable alluvial deposits, but the uplands have poorer soils and can support only grasses suitable for grazing.