The Cape Verde Islands are located in the mid-Atlantic Ocean some 620 kilometers (385 mi.) off the west coast of Africa. The archipelago consists of 10 islands and 5 islets, divided into the windward (Barlavento) and leeward (Sotavento) groups. The six islands in the Barlavento group are Santo Antão, São Vicente, Santa Luzia, São Nicolau, Sal, and Boa Vista. The islands in the Sotavento group are Maio, Santiago, Fogo, and Brava. All but Santa Luzia are inhabited.
Three islands--Sal, Boa Vista, and Maio--generally are level and lack natural water supplies. Mountains higher than 1,280 meters (4,200 ft.) are found on Santiago, Fogo, Santo Antão, and São Nicolau.
Sand carried by high winds has caused erosion on all islands, especially the windward ones. Sheer, jagged cliffs rise from the sea on several of the mountainous islands. The lack of natural vegetation in the uplands and coast also contributes to soil erosion. Only the interior valleys support natural vegetation.
Rainfall is irregular, historically causing periodic droughts and famines. The average precipitation per year in Praia is 24 centimeters (9.5 in.). During the winter, storms blowing from the Sahara sometimes form dense dust clouds that obscure the sun; however, sunny days are the norm year round.
Geographic coordinates: 16 00 N, 24 00 W
Map references: World
total: 4,033 sq km
land: 4,033 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly larger than Rhode Island
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 965 km
measured from claimed archipelagic baselines
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: temperate; warm, dry summer; precipitation meager and very erratic
Terrain: steep, rugged, rocky, volcanic
arable land: 11%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 6%
forests and woodland: 0%
other: 83% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 30 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: prolonged droughts; harmattan wind can obscure visibility; volcanically and seismically active
Environment - current issues: overgrazing of livestock and improper land use such as the cultivation of crops on steep slopes has led to soil erosion; demand for wood used as fuel has resulted in deforestation; desertification; environmental damage has threatened several species of birds and reptiles; overfishing
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note: strategic location 500 km from west coast of Africa near major north-south sea routes; important communications station; important sea and air refueling site