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Beautiful Maps of the World’s Watersheds

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Nothing is more fundamental to life than water – and this is particularly evident in a country like Egypt, which has been aptly described by Greek historian Herodotus as the “Gift of the Nile”.

In Egypt, an astonishing 95% of the population lives alongside the mighty Nile, which is the world’s longest river at 4,258 mi (6,853 km) and also the only major source of freshwater in an otherwise arid desert landscape.

The World’s Watersheds

The Nile isn’t alone in creating the right conditions for life. Rivers of all sizes help form the world’s watersheds, and together they comprise a “circulatory system” that pumps life into every corner of the globe.

Today’s stunning maps, via geographer Szűcs Róbert, divide our planet’s watersheds into colorful catchment areas, and provide an informative look at how water flows across continents.

European Watersheds

When Rivers Take the Long Way ‘Round

Grade school physics teaches us that liquid water will take the most available path of least resistance. Sometimes though, that most available path can take water from mountains clear across a continent before reaching an ocean.

river basin map south america

Nowhere is this more evident than in Peru, home of the glacier-packed Cordillera Blanca. As rain and meltwater begins flowing from the peaks of the Andes Mountains, there are two diverging paths to the ocean.

The journey to the Pacific Ocean is a quick one, and there are small rivers at regular intervals along the coast of Peru.

Because trade winds blow east-to-west in that region, most of the water flows down the eastern side of the Andes, the beginning of a journey across the continent (as demonstrated by the light blue section of Róbert’s South America map.)

Without the Andes acting as a backstop for rain, the Amazon rainforest would not exist in its current scale and form.

When Three Become One

united states watershed map

In the United States, the dominant drainage basin is the Jefferson-Mississippi-Missouri River system (shown in pink on the map above.) This massive basin collects water from over 40% of the contiguous U.S., and comes into contact with two Canadian provinces and 31 states before terminating at the Gulf of Mexico.

The Top Ranked Rivers

The Amazon discharges far more water than any other river on earth, dumping more water per second into the ocean than the next four largest rivers combined. That makes the Amazon a clear winner in this category.

In terms of drainage area though, the Amazon is not as dominant:

largest rivers drainage

In fact, there are multiple rivers that cover massive drainage areas. This includes the Congo in Africa, as well as the mighty Mississippi, which is neck-and-neck with the Nile.

For more, view the full collection of maps here.

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History

Mapping the Spread of Words Along Trade Routes

When goods traveled to new regions, their native names sometimes hitchhiked along with them. This map shows the spread of loanwords around the world.

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Mapping the Spread of Words Along Trade Routes

In the early history of international trade, when exotic goods traveled to new regions, their native names sometimes hitchhiked along with them.

Naturally, the Germans have a term – Wanderwörter – for these extraordinary loanwords that journey around the globe, mutating subtly along the way.

Today’s map, produced by Haisam Hussein for Lapham’s Quarterly, charts the flow of Wanderwörter along global trade routes.

Tea

China’s export dominance over tea influenced how people around the world refer to their steeped beverages.

The spread of tea along the Silk Road from Mandarin-speaking Northern China resulted in much of Asia and Africa having similar sounding words for tea. Chá evolved into the chai widely consumed in India and surrounding areas today.

Tea’s other major trade route, through Min-speaking Southern China, spread the pronunciation that became the standard around Europe. This is why we see such striking similarities between thé (French), thee (Dutch), tee (German), (Spanish), and (Italian).

Tomatoes

Sometimes, a word’s journey isn’t completely linear.

In the case of tomatoes, the Italians’ decision to dub the red fruit pomodoro, or golden apple, led to a linguistic fork in the road. This is the reason the English name for tomatoes is still similar to the Aztec term tomatl, but in Russian, pomidor can be traced back to Italian.

Cotton

Many people in North America would be surprised to learn that “cotton” is a direct link to the Arabic word al-qutn.

Coca

When the Spanish brought coca from South America and spread it into the global market, its easy-to-pronounce name tagged along for the entire journey. Though its spelling may differ across cultures, say the word “coca” in many countries and people will likely know what you’re referring to.

A Small World After All

Most of us are vaguely aware that parts of our langauge consist of loanwords from other regions and cultures, but seeing the spread of language in map form is a powerful reminder that the globalization as we know it is a continuation of centuries of commercial and cultural exchange.

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Chart of the Week

Visualizing Africa’s Free Trade Ambitions

The Gambia recently became the latest country to ratify the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), helping the landmark agreement reach critical mass to move forward.

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africa free trade

Visualizing Africa’s Free Trade Ambitions

A united African continent working towards common goals would be a major force on the global economic stage.

To this end, nations in the region have been working towards an ambitious plan to create the world’s largest trade area. The Gambia recently became the latest country to ratify the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), helping the agreement reach critical mass to move forward.

Today’s graphic helps put the region – and the status of AfCFTA – into perspective.

The Patchwork Problem

One key to unlocking the region’s economic potential is making it easier for Africa’s 55 countries to trade with one another.

Currently, Africa is a patchwork of regulations and tariffs, and trade between countries has suffered as a result. For example, only 10% of Nigeria’s annual trade activity is with other African countries. This is a surprising given the country’s dominant economic standing and location firmly in the center of the continent.

As a whole, Africa’s intra-continental trade level hovers at just around 20%, while nations in Europe and Asia are at 69% and 59%, respectively. Clearly, there is a lot of room for growth.

What is AfCFTA?

AfCFTA is the biggest free trade agreement since the establishment of the World Trade Organization.

The objective of the agreement is to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business people and investments.

Last year, 44 African leaders signed an agreement to ratify AfCFTA, with half that number needed to move the agreement forward. Earlier this week, The Gambia was the 22nd country to announce that its government has ratified the agreement, meeting the threshold to officially put the wheels in motion.

We have witnessed a historic moment for the African Continent. AfCFTA is now set to become operational within
the month, creating a single continental market for goods
and services.

– Mark-Anthony Johnson, CEO, JIC Holdings

The good news for the agreement is that many of Africa’s largest economies – including Egypt and South Africa – are already on board. There is, however, one significant holdout.

The Elephant in the Room

Even though the threshold for pushing AfCFTA forward has been reached, Nigeria’s lack of commitment is still a major blow to the strength and credibility of the agreement.

Nigeria’s situation is complicated. The country’s economic prospects are bright, and Lagos is on a trajectory to become the world’s largest city over the next few decades. On the other hand, there is fierce opposition from labor unions, and the country is home to largest concentration of people living in extreme poverty in the world.

[AfCFTA is] an extremely dangerous and radioactive
neo-liberal policy initiative.

– Ayuba Wabba, President of NLC, Nigeria’s largest labor union

While the majority of African nations appear to be on board with the plan to enact AfCFTA, it remains to be seen whether Nigeria comes along for the ride or decides to go it alone.

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