Surface water

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Dataset Description

Rivers and major surface water bodies
Major river basins

The surface water maps for each country in this Atlas show major rivers and lakes. They were produced by combining three separate datasets:

Rivers of Africa, delivered through the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO)
A rivers map developed by FAO is the base dataset. This map was derived from the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) HydroSHEDS drainage direction and stream network layers. The drainage direction layer was created from NASA’s SRTM 15-second DEM. The stream network layer was created from the HydroSHEDS flow accumulation grid (using an upstream area threshold of 100 km²). For this Atlas, only larger rivers - those with a Strahler order greater than 4 - are shown. The dataset is available at
Digital Chart of the World (DCW) drainage layer
The DCW is a freely available database of global data (1:1,000,000 scale) including a number of themes. The drainage thematic layer contains a drainage network that classifies streams and rivers into perennial and non-perennial. This classification has been spatially joined with the Rivers of Africa map to give an indication of where rivers are likely to be flowing all year round. The DCW dataset is available at
Inland Water Bodies in Africa, from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO)
The FAO Inland Water Bodies in Africa dataset shows major lakes, lagoons and reservoirs. This dataset also originates from the 1:1,000,000 Digital Chart of the World. It is available through the FAO at

Links to External Data

The FAO Rivers of Africa (Derived from HydroSHEDS) and Inland Water Bodies in Africa datasets are freely available through the FAO GeoNetwork.


Further Sources of Information

Africa Water Atlas
The Africa Water Atlas, produced in cooperation with the African Union Commission, Africa Ministers’ Council on Water, European Union, US Department of State and US Geological Survey, was published by the United Nations Environment Programme in 2010.
The Africa Water Atlas provides a useful overview of water resources in Africa, with particular focus on the social context of water resource development. The main transboundary surface water basins and aquifers are summarised, and the Atlas contains a short profile on the water resources of each country.

The Africa Water Atlas is available to download as a PDF from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)

AQUASTAT is the FAO’s global water information system, providing data for countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Each country profile contains general information on the geographical and economic situation of the country, and more detailed information on water resources (major sources of surface water and groundwater), water use (with a particular focus on irrigation), and water management.

Location of GRDC surface water monitoring stations
Country profiles and other useful information can be accessed via the AQUASTAT website

Global Runoff Data Centre
The Global Runoff Data Centre (GRDC) is an international archive of river discharge data. The map shows the stations in Africa for which data is available, and the length of the observed record.

River discharge data can be ordered for specified stations through the GRDC

Global River Discharge Database
The Centre for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, maintains the Global River Discharge Database, which contains river flow data for over 3500 gauging stations worldwide. The data can be accessed directly from the SAGE website

Africa Groundwater Atlas >> Additional resources >> Surface water